Used mostly for lending a subtle flavor to desserts, rosewater is made by distilling rose petals. A traditional ingredient in Indian, North African and Middle Eastern sweets, it can be replicated with several similar ingredients to provide a delicate fragrance and taste to dishes. None of the substitutes give the exact flavor real rosewater offers, however.
Rosewater brings a simple and subtle flavor that is lingering, while barely there. It is not an overpowering flavoring, but instead something that is remotely floral, often muted and warm. Rosewater is usually used in sweets, such as rice pudding and baklava, though it also finds its way into savory lamb stews and rice pilafs as well. It is a delicate, fragrant inclusion that changes slightly when cooked, but still remains detectable even after adding it to grilled foods.
Vanilla extract is used in American cooking much in the same way rosewater is used in eastern cooking, making it a reliable substitute in cooking. While the flavor is vastly different, both ingredients lend a subtle, almost undetectable flavor to the finished product. Substitute vanilla extract for rosewater in any baking recipe that calls for it and enjoy its delicate flavor in muffins, scones, puddings and cookies. Because vanilla extract is stronger than rosewater, substitute half of the called for amount of rosewater in a recipe with vanilla extract.
Orange Flower Water
Distilled from fresh, bitter orange blossoms, orange flower water is used in the same way as rosewater throughout the Mediterranean, North Africa, France and Spain to flavor traditional desserts. Because of its similar strength and flavor profile, it makes a good substitute for rosewater in cooking. You can usually buy orange flower water from specialty retailers, Middle Eastern grocery stores and online stores. Substitute orange flower water in equal proportion to the called for amount of rosewater in a recipe.
Almond extract is a similar flavoring that will produce good results in finished baked goods and other desserts. Almond extract is much stronger than rosewater in potency and should be substituted at one-half or even one-quarter of the amount called for in a recipe. The almond flavoring is bolder than that of rosewater and depending on the use, you can adjust the amount accordingly so that it is not overpowering in the finished product.