This Secret Ingredient Makes Your Food Anxiety-Relieving & More Delicious
The first time I encountered rose jam, I was eating breakfast in a courtyard in Damascus. The spread was abundant, with eggs and cakes and breads baked into various shapes covering almost every inch of the table. But the rose jam was the clear star: Fragrant and vibrant pale pink, it was delicate, sweet, and complex, with a flavor that elevated everything it touched. I bought four large jars and left behind old clothing to fill my suitcase with the stuff, shocked that roses, something I'd so casually encountered for years—in arrangements from my boyfriend, at a local bodega—had the ability to transcend on my taste buds.
In truth, I didn't really even know you could eat roses until that 2007 trip to Syria, but they've been prominently featured in global cuisine for thousands of years. Rose was historically prized for its medicinal and gastronomic properties, and modern studies confirm its anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety effects.
That said, you don't want to tear off the petals of the next bouquet you buy and add them to your simmering curry. Roses from flower shops are often covered in pesticides that you don't want anywhere near your body. While you can use rose petals in your food, it's recommended to buy them organic (which can be hard to find) or to grow them yourself. It's always a good idea to wash fresh petals before eating them just to make sure they're clean.
Even easier is simply purchasing dried rose petals or rose water, both of which can be found online and at most Middle Eastern markets (be sure that the ingredients list on the rose water is free from artificial flavor, which is common in brands sold in the U.S.).
Rose water can be used to add a fragrant lightness to dishes both sweet and savory. A splash of it with white vinegar, fine-grain sea salt, and a bit of honey tossed with thinly sliced cucumbers creates an addictively enhanced version of classic pickles that will add an intriguing note to any sandwich. A splash of it in a spicy chickpea harissa curry adds a floral sweetness that balances the peppery piquant notes.
Roses and pistachios are often found together in Middle Eastern dishes, and the two pair perfectly in fare both sweet and savory, so if a dish calls for pistachio, consider adding in a few crushed rose petals or a splash of rose water. A pistachio crust on a pastured chicken is brought to life by some ground-up rose petals; a pistachio crumble on top of an overnight chia oatmeal is enlivened by a dash of rose water in the mixture (and maybe a few pink petals on top as well, for visual appeal). The only real rule? Start small and build up from there—a teaspoon of rose water is often more than enough, and too much can quickly take a dish into more powdery, musty territory.
You can also steep rose petals in boiling water to make a tea, a folk remedy now backed by scientific evidence, to alleviate menstrual cramps. In tea form, it plays well with cinnamon and tulsi, or holy basil, both of which have their own studied health benefits.
And, while I haven't quite mastered a healthy version of the rose jam that got me hooked on the flower's culinary qualities in the first place, I do love adding a splash of rose water to any fruity chia jams (recipe here) that I make. I'll spread it on toast and close my eyes, breathing in the soothing aroma, and suddenly, I'll be back in the warm sun, in the citrus-scented courtyard, ready for my day to begin.
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