Persian Flower Delights

In time for Nowruz, which falls on March 20 or 21 in 2019, depending on where in the world you are, I wanted to share with you my favorite Persian floral delights. Flowers don’t only bloom in Persian gardens and adorn Qajar art and textiles, they’re also used in cuisine. Rosewater adds a bright note to savory and sweet dishes. Willow flowers flavor sugar and candy. Orange blossom accents tea blends. As good as flowers smell, their flavors are equally beautiful.

So I took a walk through my local Iranian store and came home with a whole treasure trove of floral delicacies.

Orange Blossom Petal Jam

In Iran, I had tasted a dazzling variety of jams, from quince and watermelon peel to cucumber and eggplant. My favorite jam, however, was made of Seville orange blossom petals. It had the heady scent of orange flowers, honeyed, delicately green with a hint of leather and musk.

Sometimes orange blossom jam is enhanced with lemon peel, but the best recipes contain only flower petals, lemon juice (or citric acid) and sugar. You can drizzle it on yogurt and bread, but it’s so luscious that I prefer it the way the Greeks serve their spoon sweets–with a glass of cold water. A cup of black coffee is always welcome.

Musk Willow Water

The distillate of musk willow, Salix aegyptiaca, smells like Caron Bellodgia. It has a scent reminiscent of spicy carnation with a fruity accent, and I enjoy the scent so much that I use it in any dessert where I would use rose or orange blossom water. Rice pudding with willow water is heavenly.

Look for a bidmeshk or willow distillate at Iranian or Middle Eastern stores. Persian cuisine features a large array of distillates from all sorts of spices, herbs and flowers, so don’t hesitate to experiment. You can even blend them to create your own flavoring.

Musk Willow Sugar

Musk willow can also be used to flavor nabaat, crystallized sugar on a stick. It’s not eaten like a candy, but rather used as a stirrer in tea or coffee. As the sugar melts, it lends your drink a delicate taste of flowers.

Candied Jasmine

Can you imagine the taste of jasmine coated in a thin, crackly sugar crust? If you like candied violets and roses, you might find candied jasmine more delicately scented, but it can also be used to decorate fruit desserts and cakes. I like it with a piece of bitter chocolate for a more dramatic contrast of flavors.

Rose Perfumed Candied Almonds

Noghl is a family of Persian sweets that includes dragée nuts and even legumes. The main ingredient, such as walnuts, almonds or chickpeas, are roasted and then tossed in sugar syrup and cooked till the sugar forms a crisp coating. The syrup may be flavored with willow, jasmine, saffron or other spices, but my favorite is rose. Rose, almond, light caramel–what could be better?

In the UK: For a Taste of Persia website. France: Su-Perse website. USA: Sadaaf, Kalamala websites. If you know of other Persian grocery stores, especially ones that ship within the EU, please let me know. Candied jasmine is available from the UK based site called Sous Chef (they ship in the EU). The FreshMed Store in Brussels carries everything I mentioned in this article–and more.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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33 Comments

  • Sandra: Nowruz Mubarak!
    Everything on here is making my mouth water…
    As you know, I sort of celebrated Nowruz already in my children’s classroom. But we will do something this week at home.
    There was a sweet article about the history of Nowruz in the WSJ over the weekend.

    Though I am not Persian, I seem to be really drawn to the culture and have celebrated Nowruz for many years. Sometimes I wonder what other people think of that….
    My husband and I have a running joke that I was Persian in my last life

    My favorite floral dessert is Muhalbiyah, more of an Arabic pudding. I add both rose and orange blossom water. On top, once the pudding has set in the fridge I add crushed pistachios, crushed dark chocolate (or Arabic coffee) and rose petals.
    My favorite rose scented tea is Rose d’Himalaya by Mariage Freres. It’s a bit expensive but worth the price tag. March 18, 2019 at 9:42am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s a beautiful holiday and it’s my favorite too. There is so much to love about it–the celebration of spring, new life, flowers, nature, scents and all of the beautiful things.

      I love Muhalbiyah, but I struggle getting the right consistency. What do you use, rice flour or cornstarch and how much of it do you use? March 18, 2019 at 10:05am Reply

      • Sandra: Yes, I had an issue with consistency as well. Last April when I was in San Francisco I went to my favorite Armenian restaurant where they do the Muhalbiyah really well. I told the waiter how I was trying to do this at home and my troubles with having it either too thin and watery or too thick. He spoke with chef and said I should use whipping cream. I have made it several times since then and it has come out well. I do use cornstarch, maybe a tablespoon to start, and I will add more depending on if its still watery or not..and you have to really put some elbow grease into it and stir and stir. As soon as I feel that the pudding is coating the back of my spoon I turn off the head and strain it right away or else it becomes too thick.
        It’s one of those dishes you have to babysit, but the flavor and the aroma is well worth the effort! Plus my kids love it.. March 18, 2019 at 10:42am Reply

        • Victoria: The idea to add cream makes sense to me, since my issue is that sometimes the custard doesn’t have the same mouthfeel as what I remember. When it’s done right, it’s such a delicious dessert. I’ll keep on trying to get it right. March 18, 2019 at 12:27pm Reply

    • Annie: Do you have a link to the WSJ article? I can’t seem to find it. March 18, 2019 at 11:53am Reply

    • Sherry: Thank you for recommending this tea! I’ll look for it 😊 April 3, 2019 at 5:14am Reply

  • Annie: What a delightful post! I also want them all, but especially candied jasmine. March 18, 2019 at 11:51am Reply

    • Victoria: It has such a beautiful scent and it makes for a perfect pairing with black coffee. March 18, 2019 at 12:25pm Reply

      • Annie: I’m eager to try it. I also love candied violets on cupcakes. March 20, 2019 at 2:03am Reply

        • Victoria: I do too. Or just on their own. March 22, 2019 at 6:11am Reply

  • Klaas: Just reading about all this is a joy for the senses. I’m going to look out for the rose flavored candied almonds……they sound delicious! And Christopher Sheldrake should turn them into a perfume 😉

    Thank you for another delightful post. March 18, 2019 at 3:42pm Reply

    • Victoria: He already did, or something similar, with Serge Lutens Rahat Loukoum. Have you tried it? March 19, 2019 at 8:29am Reply

      • Klaas: No, I didn’t. I would love to try some more Lutens fragrances, especially some of the more exclusive scents in the cloche bottles (I’m particularly curious about De Profundis!). I should make a point to visit the store next time I’m in Paris. The Palais Royal is one of my favorite places there anyway….. March 19, 2019 at 8:54am Reply

        • Victoria: There is also Louve, from the export collection, and it’s another almond-scented perfume from Lutens. So, you can compare these two. March 19, 2019 at 8:58am Reply

          • Klaas: Thanks Victoria! March 19, 2019 at 9:24am Reply

        • Annie: Which Lutens perfume do you recommend for someone who likes citrus? March 20, 2019 at 2:04am Reply

          • Klaas: I’m no pro on Serge Lutens, but I know he re-released his lovely Fleurs de Citronnier. I don’t know if it has been reformulated, but I remeber it as a gentle, almost velvety, white floral scent with lemon blossom in the lead. It is not a fizzy, sparkling citrus like say the Hermes eau de Colognes, bracing and fresh, but something different altogether. There’s honey and musk in it, so you could call it an oriental citrus. It’s definitely worth trying! Enjoy…. March 20, 2019 at 4:09am Reply

            • Victoria: I was thinking of Fleurs de Citronnier too and perhaps Nuit de Cellophane, although the latter is sweeter and fruitier than most colognes. March 22, 2019 at 6:12am Reply

  • Becky D.: Reading this article is like walking through a Persian version of Candy Land, my favorite board game as a child! March 18, 2019 at 9:59pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m so happy to hear this! March 19, 2019 at 8:29am Reply

  • Deanna Wisbey: I always look forward to your posts, they awaken the senses, especially on a grey rainy morning in London! Deanna March 19, 2019 at 3:13am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Deanna. In London, you have so many great Iranian stores, like Bahar Persian Supermarket in Kensington High Street or Reza Iranian Supermarket. If you end up checking them out, also see if they have smoked rice. It’s something spectacular, and you use only 1-2 Tablespoons to 1 cup of regular rice for a haunting, woody scent. March 19, 2019 at 8:32am Reply

  • Frank: Can you sub willow water in any recipe that calls for orange or rose water? Will you get a similar scent if you add a couple of cloves to rose water? March 19, 2019 at 10:03am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, exactly, either flower water may be used. Rose and willow have a similar flavor profile, while orange blossom is different.

      As for clove, that’s an interesting idea. I’m sure that it can work in a pinch. March 19, 2019 at 5:51pm Reply

  • OtherWise: Reading this, I am reminded of how little practice I have in that blurry space where floral, indolic, sweet, and savory mingle. Even Earl Grey tea continues to present something of a challenge to me. I like it, but, even after decades of drinking it, I still have to do a little mental work to get my “taste” to fully accept it…..I will try some of your great suggestions here…Thanks…. March 20, 2019 at 7:49am Reply

    • Victoria: You can add some of these floral waters to regular water and taste it in different dilutions, which is a similar exercise to what many perfumers do when they smell floral absolutes. Different dilutions show off different facets. March 22, 2019 at 6:14am Reply

  • Inma: Love so much this article, yes, all my senses feel alive.
    Here in Seville I was asking to some business if they would let me see how they work with orange blossom petals, I was not lucky. And, I could not find any orange blossom petal jam, maybe something like that was part of our culinary culture, it doesn´t seem to be anymore.
    I am approaching other people so I may get to know better the orange blossom harvest in my city. It is something so obvious – orange blossoms in Seville – and so hidden at the same time.
    Thank you for leading my imagination and may curiosity through these subjects! March 21, 2019 at 4:21am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s a pity, but perhaps not that surprising. It’s a small and secretive industry. I hope that at some point you can make friends with someone who owns an orchard and ask them for a handful of petals. Making this jam in small quantities is not that difficult. March 22, 2019 at 6:15am Reply

  • Inma: Yes, that´s going to be the best way to follow, thank you! March 22, 2019 at 10:19am Reply

  • Aurora: I have a sweet tooth so relished everything in this post. A custom that I remember from Algeria is dipping your hands in orange flower water before baking. I you work with your hands for the preparation then everything become subtly scented, you can do it with rose water.

    I find Iranian rose water and Lebanese orange flower water, quince and rose jam at my local Turkish store but so many thanks for the UK website (I browsed it and everything looks so tempting) and the Iranian stores in London you posted in the comments.

    Oh, orange flower petal jam sounds divine. March 23, 2019 at 6:40am Reply

  • Lydia: I have been exploring and loving orange blossom perfumes more in the last year, so the idea of orange blossom jam sounds heavenly, as do all the desserts you mentioned. Bellodgia-scented rice pudding? Oh my.

    I’ve made coconut milk kudzu pudding in the summer with vanilla, and was planning on trying rosewater next time. Now I want to find musk willow water and flavor it with that.
    Thank you for sharing these beauties! March 27, 2019 at 11:27pm Reply

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