Orange blossom water is distilled water that has been infused with essential oil extracted from orange blossoms. The water has a rich citrus scent and a strong orange flavor. It often appears in Middle Eastern cuisine and in the dishes of some European nations as well; it is also sometimes used as a beauty item, commonly being used to rinse hair, hands, and feet in some regions of the world.
Finding orange blossom water can sometimes be challenging. Shoppers who happen to live in an area with a Middle Eastern population may be able to find it in a market, along with rose and lavender waters. It can also sometimes be found at large markets for the more general population, especially in urban areas. People who plant to use this scented water for cooking should avoid products sold at drug stores and beauty shops, as they may not use food-grade essential oils.
The flavor and scent of orange blossom water is quite distinctive. Most recipes encourage cooks to use it lightly, because it can become cloying and overwhelming. One very common use is in sugar syrups that can be drizzled over pastries and fruit salads to provide a hint of flavor. It is also used in savory recipes and marinades, sometimes along with candied orange flowers or rose petals; the sweet floral notes of the orange flower water can pair very well with savory foods, especially spicy ones.
Culinary historians believe that this product originated in the Middle East, since evidence seems to suggest that people in that region developed the extraction process needed to access the essential oils in orange blossoms. By the 10th century, the water was common across the Middle East, and European adventurers were bringing it back with them as an exotic delicacy; dishes made with it were often in high demand, because the ingredient was perceived as unusual and exotic.
The blossoms of Seville oranges are believed to produce one of the finest orange blossom waters, since they have a very strong, rich aroma. Other oranges can be used as well, of course, but they may not yield the desired high essential oil content. Individuals who cannot track down this water locally may have better luck seeking out food-grade orange blossom essential oil and adding it to water to dilute it. It can also be ordered from importers, although it can be expensive when purchased this way.