Although it's not as popular as it was 150 years ago, at least in the U.S. and U.K, rose water is a unique ingredient that can add a special touch to your cooking, especially baking and desserts. But what exactly is rose water?
What is Rose Water?
Rose water is a flavored and scented water made by steeping fresh rose petals in water. It is used in a wide range of culinary applications, including drinks, baked goods, and other desserts, especially in Middle Eastern, Indian, and Asian cuisines.
Commercial rose water is usually made using the distillation method, in which rose petals are simmered and the resulting steam is captured via condensation. Rose water made this way is incredibly potent and will last for a long time. But the method is more involved (though not exceedingly complicated) and much more expensive than what you can get in specialty grocers.
An easier way to make rose water is to simply simmer the rose petals in water and then strain out the rose petals and save the water. Rose water made this way will be weaker and will lose its flavor and aroma in a few days.
Rose Water Uses
Rose water tastes and smells like roses, so it adds a distinctly floral element to whatever preparation it is added to. And because this floral quality is so distinct, it is truly a case of "a little goes a long way," particularly when working with the distilled version.
Rose water pairs well with vanilla, and it can be used in conjunction with vanilla extract or vanilla bean to add a luxurious note to custards, ice cream, sherbet, dessert sauces and puddings. A drop or two of rose water on a bowl of fresh berries will add a fragrant counterpoint.
Indeed, in America and England, rose water was the primary flavoring agent for all baked goods until the mid-19th century, much like vanilla extract is now. It was added to cakes, including pound cake, pies, including apple pie, custards, tarts, cookies, biscuits and even gingerbread. Orange blossom water was equally widely used.
Rose water remains popular and widely used in the cuisines of the Middle East, where it's used to flavor sweets like nougat, Turkish delight and marzipan. In India and south Asia, rose water adds its essence to milk, puddings, and other desserts; and in Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore, it is mixed with sweetened condensed milk to make a drink called bandung.
And though it's primarily used in desserts and sweet recipes, rose water compliments the flavors and aromas of cardamom, coriander, cumin, saffron and ginger, and can be used in savory ways, too, particularly Indian biryani dishes.
How to Cook with Rose Water
Because the floral quality of rose water is so strong, it's a good idea to use it in moderation. The distilled variety is more potent than the simmered kind, so be sure you know what kind you're using. Literally a drop or two of the distilled kind is enough to be noticeable.
Rose water is used in a number of cocktails and beverages, and one of the preferred ways of using it is in the form of a simple syrup.
Rose Water Recipes
Where to Buy Rose Water
You can buy rose water at health food stores and natural grocers, including places like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. You can also find it online.
The thing to remember is that the best quality rose water is called distillate, and its ingredients should say water and roses and nothing else. Some rose waters start with distillate and then have additional essential oils added. Still others, called "rose flower water" as opposed to rose water, can be made by combining water with essential oils.
Make Your Own Rose Water
You can make your own rose water at home using just fresh rose petals and water.
Simply add rose petals to a small pot of water, heat over low heat while stirring until the water starts to steam, then remove from heat, cover with a tightly fitting lid and let the petals steep for 20 minutes. Then strain through a sieve lined with cheesecloth into another container, and cover it while it cools to room temperature. Store your rose water in the fridge for up to a week.
Homemade rose water made using the simmering method will retain its flavor and aroma for about a week assuming it is stored tightly sealed. A glass container with a clamp lid will work well. Commercial distilled rose water will retain its potency for up to a year.