True flower waters are known as hydrosols and are a byproduct from the steam distillation process that is used to extract essential oils from flowers. Rose, orange blossom, and lavender waters have been used for centuries as ingredients in perfumes and foods, as well as for medicinal purposes.
Rosewater is distilled from roses, orange blossom water from the blossoms of the Seville orange, and lavender water from the flowers of the lavender plant. Both rose water and orange blossom water were first distilled in the 10th century, followed by lavender water in the 12th century.
Rosewater is an ingredient in many Persian and Indian desserts such as custards, pastries, and ice cream. Try a few drops of rosewater, mixed with slivered almonds in vanilla or plain yogurt, ice cream, rice pudding, or custard. Or, make simple syrup using equal amounts of rosewater and water, plus sugar. Rosewater also pairs nicely with slivered almonds and ricotta cheese. Do not use rosewater from the drugstore for cooking as it contains alcohol.
Orange blossom water is an ingredient in Persian as well as Arabic food. Orange blossom water has a stronger flavor than rosewater and should be used sparingly so that the other flavors in the dish are not overwhelmed. Add a few drops to a mixed green salad or fruit, or use in lamb, chicken, or rice dishes made with almonds, apricots, figs, pears, or dates.
Both rosewater and orange blossom water can be mixed with still or sparkling water and garnished with fruit or edible flowers to create a refreshing drink.
Although lavender water itself is not used in cooking, fresh or dried flowers can be used to make simple syrup for fruit, ice cream, cake, or pastries. Jerry Traunfled, in his book Herbfarm Cookbook, suggests pairing lavender with berries, black currents, cherries, figs, plums, or with ginger, lemon, orange, or vanilla flavors.
To make simple syrup with lavender, combine 1 cup of water and 3/4-cup sugar (can be adjusted to taste) in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add 2 to 3 teaspoons of fresh lavender flowers and stir making sure flowers are immersed in the liquid. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes. Strain into a pitcher and use immediately or refrigerate up to three months in a glass jar with a tightly closed lid.
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