Commonly used in Europe and the Middle East, orange blossom water adds a delicate floral flavor to pastries, dishes, and even cocktails. It’s not difficult to make your own extract that will keep for years.
What is Orange Blossom Water?
As you can imagine, it comes from the blossom of the, well, orange tree. Generally, flowers from the bitter orange tree are used. They are distilled much in the same way as rose water is made.
Orange blossom water is popular in many countries and is especially used in desserts. Here in Spain, it is called agua de azahar and it is used in the roscón de Reyes at Christmas time and in the mona de Pascua and pan quemado at Easter time.
In the Middle East and Northern Africa, it is used in teas, coffee, sherbets, ice cream, cakes, cookies, and other sweets. In Turkey, it is added to baklava and kadayifli.
What does it taste like?
As you can imagine, orange blossom water has a floral scent and flavor, but also a hint of bitterness. The scent is very strong when first opened, but diminishes over time. While it does have a hint of citrus scent and flavor, it’s actually quite subtle.
How do you use it?
You can add orange blossom water to anything where you would normally add vanilla or almond extracts. Try using it in my recipe for monas de Pascua or in the syrup for homemade baklava. You can also add a dash to your teas or coffee.
Ways to make it
Orange blossom water is generally made by distilling the flower buds of the bitter orange tree. This process removes most of the oils from the blossoms, leaving behind only their fragrance. If you want to try your hand at distilling, check out my post on how to make rose water.
Distilled floral waters keep much longer than those made by infusion, but since they do not have any preservatives in them, they won’t keep as long as an extract.
To make the orange blossom water by infusion, you can either let them macerate in cool water, or steep the petals in hot water like a tea. If using dry petals, I’d suggest covering them in boiling water. Fresh petals can be mashed using a mortar and pestle and then covered in cool water. For either method, cover the mixture and allow the flowers to steep in the water for a few hours. Then, strain the liquid through a cheesecloth or muslin cloth (or a stainless steel strainer) into a clean bottle or jar. Cover it tightly and store it in the refrigerator. Infused orange blossom water should keep for around 7-10 days.
For the longest shelf life, consider making an extraction into alcohol or glycerin. Both work as preservatives when used at high enough concentrations. While I prefer to use a high-proof alcohol such as vodka, rum, or gin, you can also use glycerin to extract the flavor and color. (For guidance, follow the directions for making alcohol-free vanilla extract using orange blossoms rather than vanilla beans.)
To make orange blossom water, you’ll unsurprisingly need orange blossoms and water. I prefer using the white flowers when they are open as closed flowers don’t provide the same depth of flavor. Lemon or lime blossoms also work well in this recipe.
If you prefer to make the extract, choose a high-proof alcohol that will extract the flavors well and will be self-preserving. At first, I chose to use vodka, but I found that I really like the way gin combines with the blossoms. For best results, choose one that is at least 40% alcohol, or as close as possible.
No matter which method you choose, you should first collect as many open flowers as you can. Rinse them off and allow them to dry on a clean, dry cloth. Before continuing, remove any stems and/or small fruits that have begun to develop as they may add bitterness to the final product.
Cool maceration method
Mash the petals with a mortar and pestle. Cover the mashed flowers with cold water and cover the mixture with a lid or plastic wrap. Leave in undisturbed overnight. The next day, strain the petals from the water.
Hot infusion method
The infusion method can be made with fresh or dry petals. Cover the petals in boiling water and allow them to infuse for several hours or overnight. Strain the petals from the infused water.
Extraction into alcohol
Place the clean petals into a clean bottle or jar. Cover all of the petals with alcohol. As you obtain more petals, you can keep adding them and add enough alcohol to keep them covered. Allow the mixture to sit for at least 2-3 weeks before filtering out the petals. (You can keep the petals in the alcohol too, if you prefer.)
When ready to use the extract, filter the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve lined with a clean cloth. Strain it into a bottle and store it in a cool, dry place.
Orange blossom water should be stored in the fridge and used within 10 days. While some people claim it will keep for several months, because it is an organic product made without a preservative, it will likely grow bacteria and perhaps even mold. While mold is obvious to see, bacteria can be invisible. In any case, toss the batch at the first signs of changes in color, scent, flavor, or texture. (I left mine out of the fridge and it became cloudy within several days. It also developed a fermented, musty scent.)
Orange blossom extract made with alcohol will keep much, much longer; probably indefinitely.
Orange Blossom Water (Agua de Azahar)
- stainless steel funnel
- mesh strainer
- 1 cup orange blossoms
For infusion method in water
- 1 cup water
For alcohol extract method
- 1 cup high proof alcohol like vodka, gin, or rum
- Rinse the orange blossoms in water and allow them to dry over a clean, dry cloth.
- Remove any stems and/or small fruit that have begun to form within the flowers.
Cool maceration method
- Mash the petals with a mortar and pestle.
- Cover the mashed flowers with cold water and cover the mixture with a lid or plastic wrap. Leave undisturbed overnight.
- The next day, strain the petals from the water.
Hot infusion method
- Bring the cup of water to a boil.
- Cover the petals with the water while it's still hot.
- Cover them with a lid or plastic wrap and allow them to infuse for several hours or overnight.
- Strain the petals from the infused water.
Extraction into alcohol
- Place the clean petals into a clean bottle or jar and cover them with alcohol.
- As you obtain more petals, continue to add them to the bottle, covering them with more alcohol as needed.
- Allow the mixture to sit for at least 2-3 weeks before filtering out the petals. (You can keep the petals in the alcohol too, if you prefer.)
- When ready to use the extract, filter the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve or cloth.