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What is Rose Water?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon260026 — On Apr 09, 2012

My rose water I made at home turned the water purple and my skin purple. I washed it off but it also does not have the rose scent once I put in the hot distilled water. How do I make rose water that is clear and keeps its fragrance.

By anon259647 — On Apr 07, 2012

Can rose water be used as home protection or is a myth?

By anon180727 — On May 27, 2011

For me the best brand of rose water is the brand rose of Bulgaria rose water, because i tested so many but the rosa damascena of bulgaria is the best one. you can find the brand rose of bulgaria online.

By anon158584 — On Mar 07, 2011

and it would be great to note that Avicenna was a Persian doctor, and not an Arab one. This is a bit insulting to us Iranians, as he is one of our national heroes, given the fact that he was born in Persia, lived in Persia for a good deal of his life, and died and was buried in Persia. Thank you!

By anon154064 — On Feb 19, 2011

The one thing I'm allergic to and turns to be hypoallergenic? It makes me sick! I can't find information about anyone else being allergic to it. Strange!

By anon147582 — On Jan 29, 2011

My dad's sister told my dad to buy us rose water.

He bought some and I used it just now. It smelled very strongly of rose and I was a little shocked, it's still on my hands but my face felt nice afterward.

I love the smell of roses and the best thing about it is that it's hypoallergenic, people with perfume allergies most likely won't react to this.

By anon121002 — On Oct 22, 2010

I buy the rose water online and has no scent it all.

By anon105057 — On Aug 18, 2010

You can get rose water at any indian grocery store.

By anon96709 — On Jul 16, 2010

I made rosewater for free in my own home. It works great! I had bad acne and scars and large pores,now everything is starting to clear up and my skin is so soft and has a glow to it. I love it!

By anon94762 — On Jul 09, 2010

I highly recommend checking out any Persian or middle eastern markets, online or at a store. They sell it for a good price. --Kay

By anon84684 — On May 17, 2010

Where can I purchase rosewater in Connecticut or by mail? Dawn

By anon69217 — On Mar 06, 2010

where can you purchase a fair amount of rose water for a reasonable price?

By anon65492 — On Feb 14, 2010

Thanks for the information!

By anon49838 — On Oct 23, 2009

so how many weeks can I used this rose water as a skin toner?

By anon44440 — On Sep 08, 2009

My daughter has been using rose water for bad pimples and scars on her face and she has had tremendous results. Her face has cleared up so beautifully.

By anon42065 — On Aug 19, 2009

Lovely, I'm very fond of rose water. It's the perfect thing for a perfume; it's inexpensive, yet still provides a nice touch. I was unaware that it is used in ceremonies - how gorgeous!

By anon31386 — On May 04, 2009

Lovely. After I wash my face or take a shower/bath, I spray rosewater and let it mist down onto my face and body. I started doing this after I read that it's good to get dosha in balance, especially when you have a pitta imbalance. I love the scent. It relaxes me and I haven't seen any adverse effects on my skin.

By lamaestra — On Mar 27, 2008

I have found that rose water, lightly sprayed on your neck and wrists, makes for a fresh and very light perfume - very pleasant especially in the summertime!

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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