A Brief History Of Cooking With Roses, Rose Confectionery And Savoury Rose Dishes

You might have noticed that at Lavolio we love flowers.

Not only their beautiful shapes and colours inspired the design of our keepsake tins, but their wonderful flavours feature in my most aromatic collection Arabian Nights. Cooking with flowers has recently taken Instagram by storm – you might have seen around those pretty pictures of shortbread biscuits encasing crystalised blossoms and other delicious flowery desserts – but many cultures have used flowers in their cooking for many centuries.

I have always loved Turkish Delights, and rose’s strong, perfumed flavour. I’d love to share with you a little bit of what I have learned about this wonderful flower – and how it has inspired your favourite floral Lavolios.  

Roses are beautiful and make for wonderful decorations and garnishes: imagine them adorning a lavish wedding cake or whole, floating in a drink. But they are then often discarded. I was interested in their aromatic flavour, not only by itself but also in what it can bring to enhance a dish. After all, most edible flowers, whilst aesthetically pleasing, can (and should!) be treated as ingredients in their own right.

The Greeks, Romans and Persians were all partial to cooking with roses -using them to infuse oils and medicinal waters, or to add natural sweetness. It was the Persians who developed a technique to steam rose petals to extract the perfumed oil, and obtained rose water as a by-product. This technique then spread to India and Arabia and successively to Europe via the Bulgarian Rose Valley, which today produces the largest percentage of the world’s rose oil.

Persians, Greek and Romans also used rose petals to decorate their banquet tables. The poet Horace references this in his odes, for example in this passage: “O command now that the wines be brought forth / and the perfumes, and the blossoms all too brief / of the rose whilst circumstances yet permit […].”  Roses were considered as a symbol of purity and used in ceremonies such as weddings, but also funerals.

The Victorian loved flowers: they created a complex language of flowers and often used them into their food. Together with the rise of sugar plantation in British colonies, the Victorians favoured the look of candied flowers and flower-encrusted sweets and pastries.

To this day in Western culture rose and rose petals are more often used in desserts and other sweet dishes. Rose pairs wonderfully with fruits such as passion fruit, raspberry and lychee, dried apricots and honey. Many Middle Eastern desserts and confections feature rose and rose water: Turkish Delights are a rose-flavoured favourite, so much so that they have inspired my Lavolio Rose Jellies, but also rose cakes, rose ice cream and other floral sweets.

On the other side, in many cuisines rose is used in savoury dishes as well: in the Middle East; in North Africa, in the spice mix ras el hanout, together with other spices, dried rose petals are a seasoning for poultry, lamb and other meats; in India, rose water is used in Kashmiri Biryani. Roses pair wonderfully with cheeses like buffalo mozzarella and brie; with vegetables such as tomato and aubergine and with herbs like basil and tarragon.

Any variety of roses can be used for cooking (as long as they are free of chemicals and pesticides), and they vary greatly in the strength of flavour. Damask roses, Garden roses, heirloom, Rosa Rugosa and “Generous Gardener” are all wonderful varieties for cooking, together with any pink, yellow and some white roses; you will have less luck with red roses, which tend to have little flavour. As a general rule, the more fragrant the rose the more flavour it will give to your dish…follow your nose!

If you, like me, love all-things-rose, I suggest trying my Lavolio Rose Jellies, which feature in my most aromatic collection, Arabian Nights: a vegetarian jelly infused with rose, encased in a crisp sugar shell tinted with a pale pink blush. If you are unfamiliar with this flower’s strong and perfumed flavour, why not start small, brewing your own cup of rose tea? It is really easy to make at home: simply add dried highly fragrant rose petals to tea leaves of your choice (make sure you start with a blend that you already like!) to brew the perfect cup.

What is your favourite rose-flavoured food?