A few drops of rose water turns simple drinks and desserts into irresistible delicacies.

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Credit: Allrecipes illustration

There are few culinary ingredients more mysterious and hypnotic than rose water. Rose water has a storied history, but if you're unfamiliar with it you likely have no idea where to start. You only need a little bit of rose water to add a floral sweetness to desserts and drinks alike. Read on to learn about rose water's history, how to cook with rose water, and how to make some rose water of your own.

What Is Rose Water?

Rose water is a liquid made by steeping rose petals in water or distilling rose petals with steam. It's a byproduct of making rose perfume, an ancient process that originated in ancient Persia (present-day Iran) centuries ago by steam-distilling crushed rose petals to obtain their essential oils (rose water is the liquid that remains; it can also be made by steeping rose petals in hot water).

Rose water is popular in Middle Eastern, South Asian, 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. In sweets like an Egyptian rose leaf cookie or a fragrant drink such as a Minted Rosemary Rose cocktail, the gorgeous floral notes are transformative, and both relax and awaken you at once.

Luckily, cooking and baking with rose water is very easy. But it's important to remember this stuff is strong: A little goes a long way. It's readily available at most international grocery stores and online.

How to Cook With Rose Water

One of the easiest ways to cook with rose water is gradually introducing it to dishes that would flourish with a little bit of its sweetness. Start by adding rose water to jellies and simple syrups for depth. From there, you could try making dishes that include rose water, such as the slightly sweet, unfrosted Yazdi cupcakes made with cardamom, rose water, and pistachios; halva, a Middle Eastern dessert typically made with semolina or tahini; and milky rice puddings such as Indian kheer.

Desserts are indeed a natural partner for rose water — especially simple fruit desserts, as the floral undertones are a natural complement to fruits' natural sweetness. It absorbs beautifully into fleshy fruits, 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 rose water. Top with cold water and stir for a super easy and refreshing drink.

How to Make Rose Water

Although rose water is pretty affordable, you can also make your own right at home by boiling fresh or dried food grade rose petals: add the petals to a pot and just enough distilled water to cover them, add a lid, and cook on medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes or until the petals have lost their color. Once it's done, strain the liquid to get the petals out and store in a glass bottle or jar. Homemade rose water will last up to 7 days at room temperature, up to a month in the fridge, and up to a year in the freezer.

Benefits of Rose Water

Rose water has plenty of uses in skincare, such as reducing redness or irritation, and rose water may have anti-aging properties. Rose petals and rose water contain antioxidants, and consuming rose water may help relieve headaches, sore throats, and digestive issues — it can also enhance your mood and may even help reduce depression and anxiety.

Rose Water Substitutes

Although rose water has a distinct taste, there are several ingredients that can either replicate or hint at it. Rose essence will be the closest substitute out there, but it's concentrated you'll need to use far less — about 1/8 the amount you'd use if you were cooking with rose water. Orange blossom water also has a floral taste, but will also add a subtle citrus flavor. You can also use vanilla extract or almond extract in a pinch, or add cardamom if it's not already in the recipe.

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