What is Rose Water?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Rose Water Cocktail

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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. Besides having an aromatic and flowery fragrance, when used accurately rose water adds a beautiful sweetness and unique element to savory and sweet dishes.

Although it is commonly found in food, rose water is also a key component of cosmetics and perfumes.

What is Rose Water?

Rose water made commercially is obtained through distillation. Fresh rose petals are simmered with water and the resulting steam is captured via condensation. Rose water made this way is incredibly potent and will last for a long time when stored correctly. But this method is more involved—though not exceedingly complicated—and yields a much more expensive product than the rose water that you can get at specialty grocers. Other types of rose water can be made with dried rose petals, or by adding distilled water to rose oil—this diluted version is less fragrant, but it will still provide a nice aroma and flavor.

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, but it will still add a nice touch to your food if used right away. Roses used for this purpose need to have not been sprayed with harmful or toxic ingredients, thus organic roses from a home garden are the best choice when making your own.

Fast Facts

  • Culinary uses: sweet and savory dishes of Middle Eastern origin.
  • Characteristics: sweet, fragrant, and potent.
  • Cosmetic uses: make-up, skincare, and perfumes.

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. 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 in Indian biryani dishes.

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. 

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, custards, tarts, cookies, biscuits, and even gingerbread. Nowadays, 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, pastries, puddings, and marzipan. In India and South Asia, rose water is added to milk, puddings, and beverages. Sweetened condensed milk and rose water compose the delightful bandung, a favorite treat in Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore.

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 version is enough to be noticeable.  Rose water is used in a number of cocktails and beverages; one of the preferred ways of using it is in the form of a simple syrup

What Does Rose Water Taste Like?

Much like the flower it comes from, rose water has a floral, sweet, fragrant, and delicate quality in its flavor. Rose water has a subtle character to it and needs to be used in moderation in order to appreciate its true flavor and quality.

Rose Water Recipes

Where to Buy Rose Water

You can buy rose water at health food stores, upscale grocers, and Middle Eastern supermarkets. Simply remember that the best quality rose water is called distillate and its ingredients should include just water and roses. Some rose water's ingredients start with distillate but have additional essential oils and additives. 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 and heat over low heat while stirring until the water starts to steam. Remove from heat, cover with a tightly fitting lid, and let the petals steep for 20 minutes. 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. 

Storage

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. Commercially produced distilled rose water will retain its potency for up to a year. Store in a cold dark place.