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What could be better than a giant room packed full of bath bombs that turn water into jelly, walls of bubble bar fidget spinners, bath bomb rollercoasters and adult slides? Absolutely nothing. Sound like a scene from your wildest, soapy dreams? Yes, but it was also LUSH'S Creative Showcase.

From product sneak-peeks to live LUSH kitchen demonstrations,  filmed Q&A sessions to installations that celebrate creativity, the Creative Showcase took place across four locations in London. Oh, and we were invited. 

Dalston's founder, Duncan took to the panel dedicated to discussing creativity with essential oils at the Barbican Centre alongside LUSH founder, Simon Constantine and bespoke perfumer, Louise Bloor. We share our favourite moments from the day alongside D's words on distillation, hunting down quality ingredients and the curious history of the cola nut.

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So how do we use essential oils at Dalston's? Essential oils carry concentrations of flavonoids - molecules in plants many of which carry strong flavours - sometimes called volatiles. These can be extracted from plants in a variety of ways. Many common flavonoids have powerful properties - anthocyanin for example occurs in many fruits and vegetables and is an antioxidant - it is also the thing in blood orange which gives the fruit’s flesh a deep red colour.

We use some dissolved essential oils but we're particularly interested in by-products of the essential oil making process called hydrosols or hydrolats. These liquids - sometimes called floral waters - are full of flavour. One of the processes used in making essential oils is distillation, and through distillation you can achieve many different expressions of flavour from one plant.

One of the special things about the essential oil making process is that at different temperatures you can get different flavours from the plant by distilling it at different temperatures. So in effect, the process of making essential oils is more fine and precise than other methods such as infusion, which is how we made our drinks previously.

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Our drinks typically challenge people's  perceptions. Some people just want what they know, but others are increasingly more adventurous with food and drink. There’s a whole wonderful world of flavours to explore. We're trying to improve classic soft drinks so it’s useful in one sense, as people are inclined to try something familiar but at the same time a little different, but it’s also important to give people what they want. While taste is subjective, we all largely have the same taste buds - really it comes down to how adventurous the taster is. We develop some drinks that we think taste amazing, but are too niche to make it onto the market. Trying a new brand is one thing, but trying an ingredient you’ve never heard of isn’t for everybody - so we spend our time hunting down the best quality ‘regular’ ingredients we can which often means going to where they are grown and getting to know farmers and processors.

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The big companies in soft drinks tend to spend a lot of money on advertising and marketing. We like to spend most of our time searching for and experimenting with the best ingredients we can find and developing drinks-making methods. There is a large industry set up for brands to outsource their innovation and supply chain to, but we like to keep our hands on the processes.  We’re always trying to arrive at that ‘perfect’ recipe. We must have gone through at least 30 cola recipes over four years and it gets better each time. Same with ginger beer - we’ve gone through about 20 small recipe changes and we’re always trying to improve.

I suppose to some, the most surprising ingredient in our cola might be lavendar - it adds a little floral hint at the end. But for me, it was learning about the history of gum arabic which is acacia tree sap, typically from South Sudan, and then learning about a more sustainable replacement - cellulose gum from tree pulp. Then there’s the fascinating and curious history of the cola nut…

We suspect cola originally developed as a way of masking the bitter tastes of some of its more powerful ingredients. Cola nut for example contains a hit of caffeine, but tastes quite bitter.

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