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How to Use Rose Petals in Cooking

How to Use Rose Petals in Cooking

Have you ever wondered how to use fresh or dried rose petals in cooking and baking? Or whether you can use the petals from the roses in your garden in food?

When I was growing up some dishes in our house were always flavoured or garnished with dried rose petals. Rosewater was a regular pantry ingredient too and was added to sweets, desserts and even the thick coffee my grandma made. Rose petal jam made from fresh rose petals often made an appearance on the breakfast table to be eaten with bread and butter or clotted cream. I must confess, the sophisticated floral flavour of rose petal jam was quite grown up and I didn’t care for it much as a child. I do adore it now.

As a Persian cook I am never without a jar of dried rose petals, another of tiny dried rosebuds and a bottle of rosewater in my pantry. I use dried rose petals as a garnish for food and sweets, as a spice, and even make a very delicious fudge-like sweet (rose petal halwa, pictured below) with it. Fresh rose petals from my garden always make decorating cakes and desserts a breeze.

These little Persian sweetmeats (rose petal halwa) are flavoured with dried rose petals and rosewater.

But can you use the fresh petals and buds of all roses in cooking and food decoration? As a simple decoration, by all means. But you need to make sure the roses haven’t been sprayed with chemicals.  Fresh rose petals as they are, crystalised or coated with sugar look great on desserts and cakes. Check out my rather different method of coating fresh rose petals with sugar in my Persian Rose & Vanilla Ice Cream recipe which involves dipping the petals in a rosewater syrup to make them very fragrant.

Dried rose petals and rosebuds look gorgeous when used sparingly as decoration on cakes and pastries, too. I often use a few to decorate my Puff Pastry Hearts with Chantilly Cream. It’s important not to overdo it, though. Dried flower buds and petals are papery and don’t have much taste or aroma so they better not be used heavy-handedly. Less is definitely more in this case.

Dried rose petals, dried rose buds and toasted and crushed rose petals.

If you are using dried rose petals as a spice toast them lightly in a dry pan. Toasting intensifies the aroma and gives dried rose petals a delicious smokey edge. They burn very easily so keep an eye on them. My mum uses crushed toasted rose petals to flavour some of her biryani-type (layered) Persian rice dishes such as lubia polo (spiced rice with cubed lamb and green beans). I sometimes make her lubia polo with chicken instead of lamb. Check out Persian Spiced Rice with Chicken and Green Beans for the recipe.

My mother also sprinkles crushed untoasted rose petals on yoghurt or stirs it into a chilled yoghurt and cucumber soup with herbs, raisins and chopped walnuts (abdoogh/abdugh). This soup is a great dish to serve as a starter on hot summer days.  She always decorates the soup with crushed dried mint and rose petals in beautiful patterns. Sometimes it looks too good to eat!

Mast-o khiyar (yoghurt with cucumbers, herbs, walnuts and raisins) is often flavoured and decorated with dried rose petals. The diluted form of this yoghurt salad makes a refreshing cold summer soup called abdugh/abdoogh.

Apparently not all roses are created the same when it comes to culinary use. My mother only uses pale pink rose petals specially grown for use in food in Tabriz, her hometown in the northwestern Iranian province of Azarbaijan, especially when they are meant for making jam. She says petals from very aromatic roses grown for making rosewater in other regions of Iran taste bitter in jams and some varieties can even have an unwanted laxative effect.

Most rose varieties are only mildly laxative and a few fresh or dried rose petals scattered on a dish or a little used as a spice won’t cause any trouble. But if you are using big quantities, to make jam or jelly for instance, it’s best to make a small amount at first and test it before making a large batch. I remember my mother spending a lot of time and effort to make a huge pot of fresh rose petal jam from the lovely pink roses in our orchard only to bin the whole thing when it caused discomfort to everyone who had it. Lesson learned the hard way!

Coarse sugar infused with the scent of dried rose buds or petals can be stirred into tea.

Dried rose petals are great in herbal tea mixes, too. My favourite herbal tea mix is the Persian Rose Petals and Borage Flowers Herbal Tea. It’s a well-balanced herbal mix that’s delicious, very pretty and apparently quite heart-friendly. You can also mix dried rose petals, tiny rose buds and a few cardamom pods with black or green tea leaves for an exotic brew.

Dried rose petals sold in UK supermarkets and online are mostly sourced from Pakistan and are usually of rosa canina variety. They are dark pink or crimson in colour. Persian dried roses are pale pink and come from damascene roses. Both are good for food decorating but I prefer Persian dried roses, available from Middle Eastern groceries and online, for use as a spice.

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