Ask Peter: Rose flavours
I tried some Indian sweets at Diwali which were strongly rose-coloured and rose-flavoured. The chef said they made their own rose flavour rather than using bought oils or essence. I have a garden full of old-fashioned scented roses (spray-free) and would love to try my hand at making things with them. How do you extract the flavour/fragrance and can you use the petals in salads?
A few weeks ago, while in the South of France, I drove past the turn-off to Grasse - the famous French town where some of the world’s best perfumes are made and also the town mentioned in Patrick Suskind’s fabulous book Perfume – the story of a Murderer.
I have to say I was tempted to head into the town, hoping to see glass vats of rose petals, violets and the like. The production of essential oils, aromas and essences is a slightly complicated process, but one that isn’t impossible. I’d recommend you buy a book dedicated to the subject - but here are the basic processes.
You need to set up a mini-still. Sit a clean, heatproof brick, a pile of heat-proof tiles wrapped in a cloth, or a stack of trivets in the centre of a large pot — at least a 10 litre pot. Sit a metal bowl on the brick. Scatter as many petals as can fit around the brick (densely packed) up to the height of the brick, then pour on enough filtered water to cover the petals.
Bring slowly to the boil, then turn to a simmer, and sit an inverted lid on top. Then sit a bag of ice on top of the inverted lid and wait. The science is that the rose essential oils are caught up in the steam which rises to the lid (which is cold) where it condenses and then it drops into the metal bowl.
Every 5-10minutes, remove what has been trapped. It’s finished when you notice the aromas lessening.
Making rose oil
If you think that sounds complicated, here is the oil process. Wrap about 4 cups of rosebuds and petals tightly in a muslin bag and gently bash with a rolling pin. Quickly place in a 2 litre jar and pour on enough “carrier oil’’ to cover the bag. Screw a lid on tightly and leave in a cool shaded place for 2 weeks.
Remove the bag from the oil, squeezing out as much oil as you can, as the closer to the petals the more aromatic it’ll be. Repeat the process using the same oil, but fresh rose petals, a further four times. This will have taken 10 weeks! You may now be thinking you’d prefer to buy it.
Making rose sugar
The most regular way I have of using rose petals (apart from tossed on to salads or stirred into berry jams at the last minute), is to make rose sugar. Pull the rose petals apart from each other and leave to “dry’’ for 15 minutes on a tray in a single layer. For every cup of rose petals, use 1 cup caster sugar.
Place in a food processor and quickly pulse-blitz to produce a coloured sugar — if you blitz too much it can become a paste, so be wary. Tip it back on to the tray, sprinkle with 1 tsp rose extract and leave to dry for 20minutes, then store covered in the fridge. Use to dust shortbread and cakes, mix into sliced stone fruit and berries or use in panna cotta or custards to give a subtle flavor and tinge.
I have to say I have never got a lot of colour from my waters, sugars or oils, and of course not all roses are dark red or pink. Like lavender, when used in food, it’s the subtlety of roses that works best.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to email@example.com and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.