Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Spice University - Rose

A Little Spice of Life
From The Colonel with an additional contribution from my friend Philomena Ashdown


O, my love's like a red, red rose - Robert Burns A Red, Red Rose

You just can't talk about a rose without invoking the spirit of love and romance. The ancient Greeks and Romans identified the rose with their goddesses of love referred to as Aphrodite and Venus. Roses are ancient symbols of love and beauty. The rose was sacred to a number of goddesses (including Isis and Aphrodite), and is often used as a symbol of the Virgin Mary. Roses are so important that the word means pink or red in a variety of languages (such as the Romance languages, Greek, and Polish).

In Ancient Rome a wild rose would be placed on the door of a room where secret or confidential matters were discussed. The phrase sub rosa, or "under the rose", means to keep a secret — derived from this ancient Roman practice.

Grown for thousands of years, roses were cultivated as much for their culinary and medicinal uses as for their beauty and fragrance. I could go on and on about roses, as growing them is one of my favorite hobbies, but I won’t. Rose hips are eaten because of their high vitamin C content. Rose hips are used for making vinegar, syrups, preserves, herbal tea, and wines. Flower petals are added to salads and desserts, crystallized, made into jellies, jams, and conserves. Distilled rose water is used to flavor confectionery and desserts, especially in Middle Eastern dishes. This would indicate that they are mainly used in sweets, but rose petals are also found in the savory Moroccan spice mix, ras el hanout, and in North African sausages.

Culinary rose essence can be found in Asian or Indian grocery and spice stores. In China, native rose species (e.g., R. rugosa) have long been used as a source for floral scents in perfumery and for producing rose-flavored black tea.

For centuries, the divine fragrance of rose has been captured and preserved in the form of rose water by the simple process of steam distillation of fresh rose petals with water. It is an ancient method that can be traced back to biblical times in the Middle East, and later to the Indian sub-continent. Rose oil and rose concrete are produced in larger quantities than rose water. The world production of these was estimated to be fifteen to twenty ton in 1986 (the most recent figures I can find), with Bulgaria, Turkey, Morocco, France, and Italy being the largest producers.

This months guest chef is Philomena Ashdown. She is actually an attorney, but is a great cook.

Colonel De and I befriended each other through our common love for spices and cooking and then found out that we also had another common business connection. He asked that I share recipes with his blog using the rose flavor. So here I am, a transplant to Cincinnati from Madras nka Chenna, India, with my ethnic roots from Mangalore.

Long before Nestle invented strawberry syrups and other flavorings, Indian cuisine had “Rose Essence”, used mostly for desserts and drinks. The delicate rose flavor has a more sharp yet delicate aroma than saffron but because it is less expensive, it is used commonly in desserts sold by the ubiquitous road-side “Mithai walla” (Mithai- means “sweet” – sweets vendor). In India, “sweetmeat” or “sweets” refers to desserts.
The “Mithais” sold by the roadside are also identified by their vibrant colors- almost neon-like pinks and greens, so much so that even fabric colors are also described as “mithai pink or mithai orange ” as opposed to the “peacock blue”, “parrot green “ or “sunflower yellow”.

Since rose essence is colorless, recipes call for adding a touch of red food coloring to make the dish slightly pink, so as to enhance the “rose” connection. You can pick up rose essence at any Indian grocery store.

The most common recipe using rose essence is the drink called “Falooda”. As with most Indian recipes, there can be numerous variations of the same dish, so here is my personal adaptation of this drink recipe.



Kheer (Rice Pudding)from Philomena Saldanha Ashdown
Spinach Salad w/ Walnuts & Feta w/ Rose Petals
Sharbat Gulab from Philomena Saldanha Ashdown
Soji Halwa (Cream of Wheat Bars from Philomena Saldanha Ashdown

Colonel De Stewart

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