A rose by any name smells as sweet, according to Shakespeare, and so does rose water, be it called gulub jal or goolub. It is the liquid or hydrosol remaining when rose petals and water are distilled together for the purpose of making rose oil. Usage of this liquid dates back, at least, to the early Romans, but production with steam distillation was probably first used by the Persian doctor Avicenna in the 10th century.
Classically, rose water is made using damask roses, which are many-petaled and fragrant. These were first grown in Iran and Bulgaria, but are now frequently found in Spain, Italy, and France. Middle Eastern countries remain some of the largest producers of this liquid because of the availability of damasks, however. If one is trying a homemade recipe, recommendations for other types of roses include most of the purple shaded varieties, such as Angel Face and Sterling Silver, as they tend to be the most fragrant.
The uses of rose water are as varied and numerous as the petals of a damask rose. Most western countries are familiar with it as an addition to fragrances and in body and facial creams. More recently, it has been introduced as a skin toner, and many people also enjoy its use in varied applications of aromatherapy. In ancient Rome, people enjoyed bathing in it, and it was, and still is, considered to have anti-bacterial and antiseptic properties. For this reason, rose water was frequently used to wash the hands.
Less familiar to most westerners is the use of this liquid as an ingredient in food. In the Middle East and Asia, meat can be cooked and infused with it, and there are recorded recipes dating back to the 8th century.
Rose water also provides the primary flavor for many sweet treats. A teaspoon (about 5.9 ml) may be added to mango lassi or marzipan. Turkish delight, a favorite candy in many Arab countries, derives its unique taste from this flavoring. To the untrained palate, the addition is often described as tasting "soapy," but that is often because many associate the fragrance of roses with skin creams. Once used to this taste, gourmets or gourmands can delight in many Middle Eastern and Asian dishes that evoke traditional cuisine at least a millennia old.
This liquid flavors not only many foods of the Middle East, but also holds sacred importance in religious ceremonies of both the Muslim and Hindu religions. In certain Islamic rituals, it cleanses the body before prayer cleanses the spirit. In Hinduism, the fragrant liquid bathes the Shiva lingam, or phallus, during the Mahshirvrati festival, an annual day of devotion to Shiva, also traditionally celebrated as the day Shiva married the goddess Parvati.
Rose water can certainly be made at home with either very simple or more complex distillation methods. The easiest way is to combine rose petals and water in a sun tea jar and set the jar in the sun for several days. Individuals should keep in mind that care should be taken when concocting these home recipes because they are not long lasting and are subject to growing bacteria, which may make the liquid quite dangerous if used in food.
Commercial preparations come in many forms and can safeguard against bacterial formation. In addition, the buyer can choose organic preparations, eliminating pesticides from the roses in their food or on their bodies. However used, rose water is certainly almost universally enjoyed, with its sweet and deep aroma, and delightful and unusual taste.