rosewater: 24 posts

Rosewater is a by-product of rose oil distillation, but many brands on the market are simply the reconstitutions that feature rose oil or rose synthetics. I prefer the former. My favorite rosewater brands are Mymouné, Heritage Products (can be found at Whole Foods and other natural food stores), and Cortas. Mymouné and Heritage Products are especially beautiful. Cortas is sharper and zestier, but it’s very good for baking or cooking. You can find rosewater from gourmet markets, Middle Eastern and Indian stores, natural food stores and online from Kalustyan’s and Amazon.com. In Europe, check pharmacies for the floral waters, including lavender and orange blossom and verify that it is food grade.

On the Rose Trail: The Art of Distilling Rosewater

The 10th century Persian philosopher and scientist Avicenna is credited with many contributions to astronomy, geography, psychology, logic, mathematics, and physics. He also found time to delve into perfumery and devised methods to extract essential oils, experimenting on roses. If Avicenna were to step into a fragrance lab today, he would orient himself quickly enough–modern perfumery is a curious amalgam of state-of-the-art science and traditional techniques. For instance, rose oil is prepared in much the way as in Avicenna’s time through the process of steam distillation.

Even older than rose oil is rosewater, an ingredient with a history predating Avicenna. Lebanese food writer Barbara Abdeni Massaad, whose award winning cookbook Mouneh explores the traditions of preserving fruit, vegetables and flowers, includes a section on making rosewater. “Yes, the distillates from roses and orange flowers continue to be made in villages,” she commented on the vitality of the tradition. “Older people still believe that homemade is best.”

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Vetiver Mist

Forest Essentials is an Indian beauty brand inspired by Ayurvedic treatments. It has a collection of skincare, creams, lotions, soaps, body mists and perfumes. I can’t comment on the Ayurvedic authenticity of its formulations, but the scents–jasmine, sandalwood and rose, turmeric, vetiver, narcissus–are beautiful. I like that they are based on the Indian perfume palette, and using these products is one of those small pleasures that make a day better.

One of my favorites from Forest Essentials is its simplest–Vetiver Spring Water, which is a vetiver hydrosol. It can be used as a facial toner, body mist or even a middle-of-the-day, pick-me-up spritz. Vetiver is soothing for the skin, and while it can be used on all skin types, it’s especially beneficial for oily skin. It’s also known for its regenerative properties, which is why vetiver extracts are often used in formulations designed to treat scars and acne.

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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.

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Fennel Cardamom Sherbet (Saunf ka Sharbat)

La canicule, the heatwave, has reached Brussels, with temperatures in the city these days exceeding those of Delhi. Unlike in India, life in Belgium is not designed for a hot climate. Air conditioners are a rare item in most households. The buildings trap heat. The large windows turn apartments into greenhouses. Last night I was dreaming that I was sleeping on the edge of an exploding volcano. It might as well have been our bedroom.

Trying to retain sanity in this heat, I turned to classical Delhi remedies. Since escaping to the cool mountain resorts in Darjeeling wasn’t in the cards, I made a refreshing fennel seed sherbet, saunf ka sharbat.

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Culinary and Aromatic Journey Across the Islamic World

“My most vivid scent from Beirut was that of gardenias. Our neighbor’s garden was full of gardenia trees and when they flowered, the smell was so heady and divine that I would stay outside just to enjoy it,” recalls Lebanese-born Anissa Helou. As a journalist, chef and prolific cookbook author, she has traveled the world collecting recipes and learning how different nationalities prepare their food. Yet when I ask her for a favorite scent memory, it’s the perfume of Lebanese gardenias that she describes.

I was inspired to reach out to Helou after I spent a few weeks in a haze of coriander, rosewater and saffron, thanks to her magnum opus, Feast: Food of the Islamic World. Published this spring after many years of extensive research, it’s a fascinating compendium of recipes from countries united by their Islamic heritage. As I describe in my article for FT Magazine, A Cultural And Aromatic Journey Across the Islamic World, another common link among the diverse cuisines Helou describes is their attention to aromatics.

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