When using roses for culinary purposes, it is important to smell and taste each type of rose, since some can be bland and mild-tasting while others can be bitter and sour. Usually if they have a strong scent, they have a similar taste of that fragrance, and generally, the more fragrant, the more flavor.
Just-picked rose petals ready for the kitchen.
Color and bloom time of these perennial shrubs varies according to variety. These bushes range from one-foot miniatures to climbers that can grow up to twenty feet in height. The diversity in perfume can vary from no aroma at all to overwhelming fragrance. Older rose varieties (Rosa species) seem to have more fragrance than the newer hybrids. A few good choices that I like for edible flowers are Rosa rugosa, R. damascena, R. xalba, and R. eglantine. For cooking, I prefer organic roses; only use blooms which have not been sprayed with pesticides or fungicides. To prepare roses for kitchen use, rinse them and shake the water from them. Turn the bloom over grasping the open flower in one hand, so that the stem is facing up. Use a sharp pair of scissors and snip right above the stem, and the petals will fall freely. Taste each rose—many roses have a bitter white part at the base of each petal—which should be snipped away. This can easily be done when removing petals all at once.
‘Mister Lincoln’ rose.
Rose petals are used in making rose water and syrup, to flavor alcohol and honey, jelly, butter, vinegar, rice puddings, custards, baklava, tea cakes, scones, cookies, frosting, ice cream and other desserts. They are ideal for crystallizing and are good macerated with wine and fruit. Rose water is popular in the cuisines of Eastern Europe, the Mid-East and North Africa and is used in pastries, cakes and sweets, often paired with nutmeats and/or dried fruits. If purchasing rose water, be sure that it is food grade and not used for perfumery. Some have rose oil added, so potency varies; be sure to taste and use sparingly—you can always add more—you don’t want to overwhelm a dish.
Old pass-along rose planted by Ida Branscum at the Ozark Folk Center, Mountain View, Arkansas.
Where savories are concerned, rose water and petals are often used in rice and couscous dishes, with vegetables, and with fowl and meat preparations, especially chicken. Dried petals are also combined with spices and herbs in blends like ras-el-hanout and advieh to season stews, taginesand grains. Together and separately, fresh petals and rose water are used to flavor sauces and vinaigrettes. Two of my favorite Moroccan-inspired salads are prepared with rose water: one is with grated carrots and the other uses sliced oranges and dates. Petals are most often used as a last-minute garnish for both savory and sweet dishes.
Making rose water syrup
Simple Rose Water Syrup This syrup is an essential in most Mid-Eastern and Mid-Eastern Mediterranean kitchens. Each cook has their own way of preparing the syrup, so there are many variations of this classic ingredient. Basically, it is a syrup made from sugar and water to which rose water is added; sometimes additional ingredients like citrus juice or perhaps a spice like cinnamon is used. Adding the citrus, cuts the intensity of the rose perfume a bit and gives the syrup a different dimension. Choose a good-quality rose water—available at Mediterranean and Mid-Eastern markets and health food stores. My favorites are a Bulgarian one from Alteya Organics, which has to be ordered online or Cortas which is found commercially in many markets. My recipe is an adaptation of my friend and colleague, Najmieh Batmangli (expert cook of Persian and Iranian cuisines), author of New Food of Life: A Book of Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies, Mage Publishers, 1992. Najmieh makes a beverage from her rose water syrup using one part syrup to three parts water and serves it over two ice cubes. I like it with sparkling water, added to lemonade or champagne and other libations and use it in ice cream, sorbets, puddings, with yogurt, compotes and pastries prepared with dried fruit and nuts, fruit salads, and desserts of all types. Makes about 3 cups 1 cup water 3 cups sugar About 2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice 1 teaspoon of zest, optional 1/3 to 1/2 cup rose water In a saucepan, combine the water and sugar and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the citrus juice, zest if using it and the rose water, stirring, and let simmer about 10 minutes. This makes a standard, not-to-thick syrup. If a thicker syrup is desired, reduce it down further, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature. Strain and pour into a clean canning jar or bottle, seal and label. Store in the refrigerator.
‘Love & Peace’–This beauty ‘Love and Peace’ was taken in Crystal Kauer’s rose garden in Midland, Michigan.
Chocolate Rose-Scented Soufflé Originally I tried preparing this recipe with rose water, but the flavor was not strong enough. Rose syrup is good in this recipe, however cooking down fresh organic rose petals takes longer, so I use the easy recipe (above) for this dessert. This quintessential syrup is used in many desserts and dishes in Mid-Eastern cuisine and surrounding regions. It marries well with chocolate for this unique soufflé. Serves 6 to 8 1/2 cup half-and-half cream 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, broken into pieces 1/4 cup sugar 2 pinches salt 5 extra-large eggs, separated 1/4 cup rose syrup Whipping cream Organic rose petals or candied rose petals Preheat the oven to 375 º F. Generously butter six 1-cup ramekins or custard cups and sprinkle lightly with sugar Combine the cream, chocolate, sugar, and salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place over medium low heat. Whisk the chocolate as it melts to make a smooth mixture. Remove from heat when the chocolate is completely melted. Beat the 5 yolks, one at a time, into the chocolate mixture. Whisk the rose geranium syrup into the chocolate, 1 tablespoon at a time. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Whisk about a cup of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Then pour the chocolate mixture into the whites and fold until just blended. Pour the mixture into the prepared dishes and bake in the lower half of the oven for 12 minutes, until they are set. While the soufflés are cooking, whip about ½ cup whipping cream with 1 tablespoon of sugar until almost stiff. Whisk in about 1 tablespoon rose syrup and taste; add a little more if desired. Remove the soufflés from the oven. Scatter a few fresh rose petals or rose geranium flowers over the soufflés if you have them, or garnish each soufflé with a candied rose petal. Serve the soufflés immediately and pass the whipping cream. (You have about 5 to 7 minutes to serve the soufflés before they start to deflate.) If you have leftover soufflés, you can refrigerate them and eat them the next day. Their texture will be more dense, but they are still tasty served at cool room temperature.
‘Thomas Affleck’–This handsome rose ‘Thomas Affleck’ was taken at the Antique Rose Emporium in San Antonio, Texas.
Drop Scones with Rose Petals and Pistachios These scones are a bit more exotic than your everyday scone and they are drizzled with a rose icing. The latter is optional—if you prefer to serve them in a more traditional manner—pass a very lightly whipped cream and rose petal jelly as accompaniments. This recipe is from Flowers in the Kitchen by Susan Belsinger, Interweave Press, 1996. Makes about 2 dozen scones 2 1/4 cups unbleached white flour 2 teaspoons sugar 3/4 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 2 to 3 pinches cinnamon 4 tablespoons unsalted butter 1/3 cup shelled pistachios, lightly toasted, and coarsely ground 1 cup cream 1 teaspoon rose water A good handful of rose petals 1 cup confectioner’s sugar 1 tablespoon rose jelly or 1 tablespoon red currant jelly mixed with about 1/2 teaspoon rose water 2 to 3 teaspoons water Preheat oven to 425 °F. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and blend thoroughly. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Stir in the pistachios. Stir the cream together with the rose water. Rinse the rose petals and pat them dry. Cut them into a chiffonade; there should be about 2 tablespoons. Stir them into the cream and add the liquid to the dry ingredients and stir to form a soft dough. Drop the dough by the heaping tablespoonful onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake the scones for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Prepare the icing while the scones are baking. Combine the confectioner’s sugar, jelly, and 2 teaspoons water in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Add another teaspoon water if icing seems too thick—it will melt a little if the scones are warm. Remove the scones to a baking rack to cool slightly before drizzling them with icing. They are best served warm, right after baking. If you want to prepare them in advance, cool them completely without icing and store them in an airtight container. Wrap them in foil and gently reheat in a 325° F oven for about 10 to 15 minutes. Drizzle the icing over them while they are warm.
Lisin na Cre cottage wall–Susan’s award-winning photo of rose-covered cottage in County Cork, Ireland.
Aptly-named ‘Orangeade’ rose.
Susan Belsinger loves immersing herself in all things herbal and looks forward with gusto to researching, growing, cooking, and photographing each new Herb of the Year™. Growing vegetables, herbs, and flowers organically, harvesting them at their peak, and bringing them into the kitchen to create healthy recipes is a way of life for Susan. She is passionate about herbs & her work—sharing the joy of gardening & cooking through teaching and writing—and inspiring others to get in touch with their senses of smell & taste.