The beautiful damask rose hybrid is an addition to the list of spices and culinary herbs that will surprise many people. Rose is highly versatile and I expect I will use it a lot when I run my own professional kitchen. I was blown away in January 2008 when a brilliant 18-year-old amateur called Emily Ludolf appeared on Masterchef and cooked with rose petals.
Damask rose bushes
Dried damask rose petals
Probably Central Asia.
Several plants of genus rosa grow wild in Central Asia and geographically as far as Western Europe and Eastern Asia. Due to centuries of breeding, the original botanical relations with wild rose species are unclear.
It is believed that almost all roses grown in Europe, Western or Central Asia and North Africa, from antiquity to the 18th century, belonged to r. gallica or were gallica-derived varieties. Damask rose is a fertile hybrid of r. gallica either with r. phoenicia or with r. moschata and has been known since antiquity (possibly arising in Anatolia several millennia ago). Damask rose or similar was known in Western Asia since the Bronze Age and its cultivation later spread to Greece and Rome.
Damask rose is the dominant source of rose oil, although in the European Middle Ages this was obtained from r. gallica flowers. In France and North Africa, rose oil is obtained to the present day from r. centifolia and its hybrids. The rose mentioned in the Capitulare de Villis of Charlemagne is probably r. canina "dog's rose". In China, native rose species such as r. rugosa have long been used as source for floral scents in perfumery and for producing rose-flavoured black tea.
Petals. For culinary purposes, rose is used in the form of alcoholic extracts or aqueous distillates such as rose water (a by-product when distilling oil of rose).
Rosaceae (rose family).
Flowery, perfume-like, sweet and very pleasant.
The botanical genus name rosa and its common English name "rose" can be traced back via Latin rosa to Greek rhodon (hence the name of the common ornamental rhododendron, "rose tree"). The plant was known in bronze-age Greece and is referenced in Homer's "Odyssey". The source of Greek rhodon is probably a lost tongue of Western Asia. Related words derive from this language by an independent route, e.g. Arabic ward and Hebrew vered. From Arabic, the name spread to languages in Islamic countries of Africa and Asia.
The Latin rosa is the source of rose names in most modern European tongues, e.g. German, Danish and French rose, Swedish ros and Dutch roos. Romance languages commonly use the name rosa. In Baltic and Slavonic tongues the "s" becomes a "z", as in as in Latvian rozes and Russian roza. An example of a loan to an Asian tongue is the Japanese rozu.
The ancient Greek name has vanished from modern Greek, which uses the unrelated name triandafillo. This refers to the "thirty-petal" cultivar grown for rose oil in Southern Europe (triakonta "thirty" and phyllon "leaf").
The botanic species damascena refers to Damascus, capital of Syria, from where the fragrant rose was allegedly brought to Europe during the crusades.
The Sanskrit term shatapattra means "a hundred leaves". The term attar for rose oil is derived from the Farsi atar "perfume", from the Arabic itr "perfume".
Rose is chiefly known as a decorative and fragrant ornamental, but it also has culinary importance. Rose products are relatively unimportant in Europe where rose water is used to flavour marzipan and is occasionally found in drinks. There is also a sweet rose liqueur produced in Bulgaria and fragrant wine with rose petals was popular in Ancient Rome.
Rose and rose oil are important flavourings in Western and Central Asia, where they are used in many sweets. Turks dissolve locoum, a very sweet confectionery with strong rose fragrance, in their coffee. In Iran, honey and jams are made more fragrant with rose flowers and rose ice cream is known in many Middle Eastern countries.
Rose fragrance plays some role in Islamic cultures from North Africa to Western and Central Asia, where it often has cultic significance or use as a deodoriser, particularly in mosques. Rose is of less importance in cooking, but is one of the many ingredients of Moroccan ras el hanout.
Rose water is often used to give a light, floral fragrance to Arabic and Iraqi rice dishes (majboos) which are reminiscent of Indian biryani. Long-grain rice, meat (mutton, chicken), vegetables and seasonings (onion, cardamom, saffron, cinnamon, pepper and dried limes) are slowly cooked together until tender. The spice mixture baharat is often used to give machboos some piquancy missing from the Indian versions. Rose water is sprinkled over the majboos after cooking, with the lid closed for a few minutes to allow the flavour to distribute.
North India is known for its delicious sweets based on milk, many of which may contain a hint of rose water, e.g. fried balls of condensed milk and flour served with syrup (gulab jamun), fresh cheese balls cooked in syrup (ras gulla) and cheese balls cooked in condensed milk (ras malai). Rose water may be sprinkled on these, as may saffron and pandanus water or "kewra".
An Indian drink popular with Western tourists is lassi. In its simplest case, lassi is just a mixture of water, yoghurt and sugar drunk cold, preferably iced. A common type of this drink, gulabi lassi, is flavoured by the addition of some rose water.