From delicately perfumed treats like Apple-Rose Pie to aromatic tachin, floral extracts—namely rose water and orange blossom water—add a luxurious, delicate, distinctive fragrance to desserts, baked goods, and even savory dishes. While they may be intimidating to work with (it’s never pleasant when your food veers into soapy territory), they’re incredibly versatile and, if handled with care, easy to incorporate into your baking and cooking. With a slight hand and a few tips and tricks, you can keep your dishes fragrant, floral, and not perfumey.
What are floral extracts?
Commonly used in South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking—though you’ll find them in cuisines across the world—floral extracts (most commonly, orange blossom water and rose water) are made from boiling flower petals and distilling the steam into a concentrated essence. It’s potent, heady stuff; there’s a reason it’s also commonly used in perfumes.
Orange blossom water does have a mild citrusy scent, but it’s less punchy and direct than orange zest or juice. Made from the flower petals rather than the fruit itself, you’ll get sweet notes of jasmine, a mild bitterness, and an overall more herbaceous aroma. Rose water smells like, well, a bouquet of roses. Rich, sweet, and familiar, a little goes a long way.
How do you use floral extracts?
This is the fun part: Floral extracts taste delicious in a wide range of applications, so experimenting with them is a low-risk way to add a little extra something to your cooking when you’re trying to impress.
“It’s more luxe than anything else,” says associate food editor Zaynab Issa. “You can add a little bit and it feels special.” Her favorite way to use floral extracts is in sweet, bright, fruity treats—she’ll add a few drops to a frozen watermelon granita in the summertime.
Add it to homemade jam, fold it into whipped cream to serve with fresh fruit, or mix it into a simple buttercream for the next cake you bake. Blend it into a refreshing agua fresca, add a drop or two to a cocktail, or incorporate it into cookies, crisps, pies, or pastries. All are good candidates for some floral fun.