A rose by any other name – would it smell as sweet?

Ispahan - A smooth rose flavoured biscuit with rose petal cream, fresh raspberries and lychees from Laduree

Isfahan or Isphahan refers to a historical city in Iran which use to be the capital and one of the largest cities in the world.   Iran’s culture has had a long and diverse tradition on the use of flowers in its food, health, trade and design.

Among the many varieties of roses, the Rosa damascena stands out as one of the most prized species in the commercial manufacture of rose oil and rose water due to its intense aroma.   It is widely cultivated and processed in Iran, Bulgaria and in Turkey.  However, studies seem to indicate that this species originated in Iran.

The processing starts with sack full of roses that have been harvested in the cool morning.   The petals are sorted on a concrete floor and allowed to slightly “ferment” then the oils are extracted through hydrodistillation.

Middle Eastern, North African and Indian cuisines have used floral waters extensively in beverage and food preparations.    Gulab Jamon, Zoulbia and bamia are just not the same without rose water added to their syrups.  Malaysia and Singapore has a drink called bandung or rose water mixed with milk, sugar and pink food colour.

In modern times, French chefs and patisseries have used rose water for flavouring macarons, chocolate and delicate cakes.   Successful pairings include tart berries such as raspberries to other floral notes namely lychee.  Dairy and vanilla are effective bases to accentuate the aromatic properties of the rose.

On the savoury side, rose water is added to stews such as safaid murgh gulabi (Chicken and Rose Curry) or Rose Quail Recipe taken from the book “Like Water for Chocolate”.   Sweet or savoury, it is best not to use too much in a recipe.  Used sparingly, the flavour of the rose can be quite intoxicating and definitely worth trying out!

Rose water is available through Ingredient Hotline, Inc.

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