Cooking with rose petals dates back centuries. Whether used for their aromas, floral flavours, symbolism or decorativeness, they are a beautiful addition to the chef's arsenal.
Often fresh rose petals are preferable when it comes to crystallising and cake decoration. In that case, it's important to find special 'culinary' or 'edible' rose petals through an online supplier. If using home-grown rose petals, make sure that they haven't been exposed to any chemicals or sprays.
Dried rose petals are more practical in terms of shelf-life and storage, and have long been used to bring floral notes to sugars and spice mixes like ras el hanout. Lots of other options are also available when seeking out distinctive rose-flower flavours: rose water, rose preserves, rose syrups and rose petal infusions.
One of the simplest ways to use dried rose petals is to grind them into a sweet or savoury spice mix, or use them to make flavoured sugar. Do this by layering a 1:2 rose/sugar ratio in an airtight container, and then sieving out the petals after a couple of weeks.
The most common way of ensuring that rose petal flavours run through a whole dish is to stir a splash of rose water or rose essence into a sponge mix or custard, as with Simon Hulstone's Rose and Almond Tansy Pudding, or Frances Atkins' Petal panna cotta.
Infusion is another common way of cooking with rose petals. This might be a simple rose petal tea, a sugar-water infusion for a flavoured cocktail syrup, or a more complex infusion for a set-custard, gelatine or opaline. Often though, rose petals are used purely as decoration, as they're both beautiful and food-safe.
Rose petals are most commonly associated with Middle Eastern dishes, most notoriously Turkish delight, and make a beautiful partnership with saffron, honey, dried apricots, cardamom and coffee. Desserts like almond sponges or semolina puddings take on rose flavouring beautifully, but don't be afraid to incorporate this flavour into more Western dishes - check out Marcus Wareing's Turkish delight cheesecake for inspiration.
Rose petals are often used in a savoury context too — they're added to a traditional ras el hanout spice mixes, along with cinnamon, clove, cumin, turmeric, pepper, coriander and many more spices. The ras el hanout is then used in chicken and lamb tagines, or as a meat rub for traditional dishes like grilled quail.
Rose petals occasionally appear in Indian dishes too, as demonstrated by Vivek Singh who adds a dash of rose water to his Hyderabadi Biriyani. They are also a common ingredient in kulfi or sweetened rice dishes.
In the context of British cooking, clean flavours like cucumber or apple pair well with rose petals. Take inspiration from all things evocative of a classic English afternoon tea — rose petals steeped in hot water, rose and cucumber gin and rosehip jams. Crystallised petals are commonly used as decoration for wedding cakes, fairy cakes or Victoria sponges.