From zest to juice, citrus fruit offers so much fantastic flavor and enticing aromas for both sweet and savory cooking. While we're all for using the fresh stuff, there's another ingredient that boasts the same properties and should definitely be on your radar: orange blossom water. "Orange blossom water, also known as the essential oil of neroli, is produced by water distillation of the blossoms of the bitter orange tree," says Matt Nielsen of Nielsen-Massey Vanillas. Unlike pure orange extract, which is made from orange fruit, orange blossom water is made from the petals of the tree. Below, we explain exactly how orange blossom water is made and how you can use it in your cooking.
Orange Blossom Water 101
"Ever since oranges appeared in the Middle East, people have been distilling the petals to create flavorful and fragrant orange blossom water for cooking. At the end of the 17th century, Anne Marie Orsini, Duchess of Bracciano and Princess of Nerola, used the essence of the bitter orange tree blossoms as a perfume in her baths," Nielsen says. Nowadays, orange blossom water is equally popular for both culinary applications—particularly in Persian, Arabic, Indian, and Turkish cuisine—and aromatherapy. The essential oil neroli is also produced from the blossom of the bitter orange tree. It's much more bitter and sharp than orange blossom water and is used in cosmetics and perfume.
Orange blossom water works in both savory and sweet dishes. Try cooking with it in this easy side dish—Glazed Carrots with Orange-Blossom Water. For dessert, our recipe for Date Cake with Orange-Blossom Syrup should hit the sweet spot. The syrup is made with equal parts water and sugar, plus two tablespoons of orange blossom water, which is then poured over the warm cake as soon as it finishes baking, giving every bite bright, sweet citrus flavor. You can also use orange blossom water by mixing it with honey for a citrus-infused sweetener or adding just ½ teaspoon to a margarita to enhance the flavor of Cointreau or Triple Sec in this classic cocktail.
Shopping for Orange Blossom Water
Just like pure vanilla extract and imitation vanilla extract, there are both pure and artificial versions of orange blossom water. The real deal will offer the most potent aroma and flavor with unmistakable natural orange essence. When choosing a product, look for designations and certifications on the packaging such as USDA, non-GMO project verified, certified gluten-free, or kosher, all of which signify that a company has taken great lengths to ensure their product is recognized as a quality one.
Orange blossom water is available in some specialty food stores (both brick-and-mortar locations and online shops) as well as big-box retailers such as Target or Amazon ($13.95, amazon.com).