Rose petals are not exactly the most commonplace ingredient for western cooks, but they are essential if you are attempting to cook certain Middle Eastern dishes. You may have a hard time finding them in grocery stores. Avoid using petals from decorative roses that may have been exposed to pesticides or other chemicals. Note that the roses used in Persian cooking come from a special variety of wild rose that is only harvested during the spring, which means that the availability will be limited. To give your food the rose flavor without using rose petals, try one of the rose petal substitutes below.
Your best bet: Rose water
Rose water is one of the oldest culinary extracts; it has been used in cooking for centuries. Originally, it was a byproduct of making perfumes from roses and was discovered by Islamic chemists in the Middle Ages. To make it, rose petals are steeped in water so that the water is infused with the essential oils. In other words, you get the same flavor that you would get from the petals.
Rose water has the benefit of being much easier find and to use when compared to petals. In addition, it does not lose its flavor as quickly as fresh petals would. Rose water’s main drawback is the fact that you lose the visual appeal that you would get from rose petals when they are used whole. Rose water is used in a number of Chinese, Indian, and Persian dishes and shows up in some blends of Moroccan ras el hanout. As far as western taste preferences are concerned, the strong floral flavor makes it better suited to desserts; however, it is a traditional ingredient in some savory preparations as well.
Use a teaspoon of rose water for every tablespoon of powdered rose petals. Adjust to taste if necessary.
A decent second choice: Rose hips
Roses have seed pods like many other flowering plants. They are not common because roses are usually pruned to get them to bloom more. Rose hips appear at the base of the blossom and look like berries. They are both edible and nutritious; they are a good source of vitamin C. They are also a good source of rose flavor and are often used to make a tart, floral tea. It should be noted that not all varieties of roses provide flavorful rose hips. With the varieties that do, the floral nature of the flavor means that you can use it as a rose petal substitute for making desserts. You use it to make jellies and syrups or to make a rose hip infusion similar to rose water.
A rose hip infusion can vary in strength; add to taste.
In a pinch: Lilac
Like roses, lilacs are another aromatic flower with a long history as a culinary herb. The petals are attractive to look at and the lilac flavor can work well in many of the dishes that require rose petals. You can use them to make jellies, syrups or sprinkle them over salads. You can even make a lilac water that is similar to rose water. Note that aside from salads, lilac petals are generally used in sweet dishes but feel free to experiment.
Use lilac petals as a 1:1 substitute for fresh rose petals.
Lavender is another flower that is widely used in cooking and that provides floral notes that may stand in for those of rose petals in some applications.
Violet petals are edible and may provide some of the same visual and flavor benefits that you would get from rose petals.