How to Cook with Rose Water, the One Ingredient that’s Missing from Your Pantry
Our handy primer dishes out everything you need to know—and more—about this versatile, wonder-ingredient.
Fragrant rose water is a powerful addition to any cook’s pantry, packing a multitude of sweet and savory applications. Outside of the kitchen, rose water is prized for its cosmetic uses and therapeutic benefits. With a rich history rooted in Middle Eastern cooking, rose water is created by steeping rose petals in water and adds a delicate floral aroma to any recipe. Rose water’s skin-soothing properties also make it a useful ingredient in facial toners and sprays. In recent years, rose water has found its niche alongside the flavored water trend, making its way into fruit-flavored beverages and more products. Our rose water guide shows you how to make the very most of this fascinating, all-purpose ingredient.
What is rose water?
Rose water is a hydrosol, or infused water that results when fresh flowers, leaves, fruits, and other plants are distilled for essential oils. Other common hydrosols include orange blossom water and lavender water, both of which have similar applications as rose water. During the distilling process, rose petals combine with water and steam to slowly release their essential oil. After the oil is extracted for use in perfumes and other fragrances, the leftover water, or byproduct, is infused with a brilliant, floral flavor—that’s rose water.
While most associate rose water with Middle Eastern cuisine, cultures all over the world have embraced its culinary versatility. Mentions of rose water appear in Roman records, but the distilling process dates back to the Middle Ages in Persia, or modern Iran. After its discovery, rose water quickly rose to its place as a staple ingredient in the aromatic cuisines of the Middle East as well as North Africa and North India.
What are the health benefits of rose water?
While thousands of rose varieties exist, the delicate fragrance and tender petals of the Damask rose make it the best variety for rose water. Damask roses also contain valuable vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, all of which you can access by consuming rose water. From a holistic perspective, rose water is known for its healing properties—some add it to tea to soothe a sore throat while others swear by it for relieving stress. Often found in skin moisturizers or toners, rose water is also believed to promote healthy skin. Lastly, rose water can help you stay hydrated, especially if plain water isn’t your jam. Adding a small amount of rose water into a glass of water makes for an easy and flavorful way to drink more throughout the day.
How to buy it.
Find bottled rose water at specialty markets, in the baking or international aisle at the grocery store, or online through Amazon. High-quality rose water is clear and transparent, resembling tap water. Avoid pink-colored varieties, as they may contain unnecessary additives. Look for words such as “pure” or “distilled” on the label, and make sure that “rose water” is the only listed ingredient.
How to store it.
Whether store-bought or homemade, rose water does not need to be refrigerated. It will retain its floral aroma best when stored in a cool, dry place. Pure distilled rose water has a long shelf life, but if you’re worried, give it a taste before you cook with it.
How to cook with rose water.
Cooking with rose water is a simple way to elevate both sweet and savory dishes. Use it to add a floral element to frozen treats such as sorbet and granita, and to baked goods such as cookies and cupcakes. Rose water and vanilla are an especially enticing match—mix rose water with vanilla extract or vanilla bean to add a creamy, luscious flavor to desserts. With a drop of rose water you can enhance simple ingredients such as fresh fruit or put a new spin on tried-and-true recipes. Rose water also carries endless savory applications, complementing aromatics such as cardamom, coriander, cumin, saffron, ginger, and more. Just remember—a little goes a long way. Depending on the recipe, you may not even need a teaspoon.
Rose water also works wonders with boozy libations, making it a valuable addition to any bartender’s arsenal. Use it to mellow the bitterness of Campari or Aperol. For a more concentrated flavor, boil rose water into rose syrup, and add a little to sparkling rosé for a refreshing summertime spritzer.
To help spark your inspiration, here are our favorite rose water recipes from fruity popsicles to fragrant jam.
We recommend store bought rose water for convenience’s sake, but it’s easy to make at home. Because distilling is a time-consuming process, most recipes call for simply simmering rose petals in water. While this method is a quick workaround, the fragrance may not be as pungent and the shelf life will be shorter.