Ingredient Spotlight: Rose Water

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Emily Han)

The first time we bought a bottle of rose water, we had no idea what we were going to do with it. It just sounded so lovely! Now the fragrant rose water is a staple in our pantry, infusing everything from cakes to rice.

Made from the distillation of rose petals, rose water has a long culinary history, originating with the Persians and spreading across the medieval Islamic world. Today, from the Middle East to North Africa to South Asia, rose water may be used to flavor both sweet and savory dishes. It’s a key ingredient in sweets like lokum (Turkish delight), marzipan, and gulab jamun. Even rice dishes and meats like lamb may be enhanced with the delicate, sweet aroma of rose water.

In the United States, its use is often confined to mixed drinks. Rose water also seems to be an acquired taste for some. If you’ve never cooked with it, or think you don’t like it but want to give it another try, we suggest using a delicate hand. Too much rose water can overpower and veer into overly-perfumed grandma territory. But just the right amount can be delightful. Add a few drops to iced tea or lemonade, lightly drizzle it over berries or melon, or add a splash to rice pudding with pistachios. Add it to whipped cream and serve with fruit or cake. Or try one of these recipes:

Fresh Fig and Rose Smoothie, from Chocolate & Zucchini
Melon and Mozzarella Salad with Rose Water Vinaigrette, from Serious Eats
Rose Water and Tea Granita, from Bon Appétit
Rose Water Plum Compote, from 101 Cookbooks
Rosewater & Pistachio Kulfi with Griddled Mangoes, from BBC Good Food
Rosewater Yogurt Panna Cotta with Blueberries, from The Kitchn
Shirin Polo (Persian Sweet Rice), from Olive Trees and Honey

Rose water may be found at Indian and Middle Eastern markets and gourmet shops. Once opened, store it in the refrigerator. To make your own rose water, check out this article:

Related: Straight Up: Using Roses in Cocktails

(Image: Flickr member levantarmialma licensed under Creative Commons)