There are few culinary ingredients more mysterious and hypnotic than rosewater. We get it, though: It sounds so exotic, but it's hard to know exactly what to do with it--and, for some, the idea of eating something floral can be off-putting. But when rosewater is used the right way, in the right amounts, we promise it doesn't feel like you're eating perfume.

What Exactly is Rosewater?

Rosewater is a byproduct of making rose perfume, an ancient process that originated in Persia (present day Iran) centuries ago by steam-distilling crushed rose petals to obtain their essential oils (rosewater is the liquid that remains; it can also be made by steeping rose petals in hot water). Just try to resist dabbing a little on your wrists or behind the ears while cooking. It is what kept Cleopatra's skin supple.

Luckily, cooking and baking with rosewater is very easy. But it's important to remember this stuff is strong: A little goes a long way. And it is affordable--Cortas and Sadaf brands run about $3 to $5--and readily available at most international grocery stores.

How to Use Rosewater in Cooking

Rosewater is popular in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes. It goes well with spices like saffron, cardamom, and jasmine; nuts like almonds, pistachios, and coconuts; and fruits like oranges and lemons, It's also used in baklava (add a few drops to the sugar/honey drizzle), Turkish delight, tea, rice dishes, and more. And in sweets like an Egyptian rose leaf cookie or a fragrant drink such as a Minted Rosemary Rose cocktail, for example, the gorgeous floral notes are transformative, and both relax and awaken you at once.

Start by adding rosewater to jellies and simple syrups for depth. Or sprinkle a few drops into pastries and baked goods, such as the slightly sweet, unfrosted Yazdi cupcakes made with cardamom, rosewater, and pistachios; halva, a Middle Eastern dessert typically made with semolina or tahini; and milky rice puddings such as Indian kheer.

You'll also find tons of recipes in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines, including rose ice cream (which often calls for rose syrup, but you can substitute rose water; just use double the amount of syrup the recipe calls for).

Rose ice cream. Photo by Jenny Aleman

Want to add fragrance and pizzazz to simple cupcakes or sheet cakes? Just add a few drops to your frosting. Try a few drops in the fresh whipped cream and mascarpone filling inside these gorgeous Strawberry Roses.

Strawberry roses. Photo by Elle

Desserts are indeed a natural partner for rosewater--especially simple fruit desserts, as the floral undertones are a natural complement to fruits' natural sweetness. It absorbs beautifully into fleshy fruits, especially, so try it on baked plums.

Or, try it with shredded apples in this simple recipe for the popular Persian drink, Faloodeh Seeb: Drop four or five ice cubes into a tall glass and add one peeled and grated apple and a capful of rosewater. Top with cold water and stir for a super easy and refreshing drink.