As early as the third century essences were made from rose petals using fairly crude methods. It wasn't until the 10th century that Avicenna, an Arab physician, discovered how to extract the essential oil from the flowers, and invented rosewater proper.
Its popularity with food quickly spread throughout Europe and into the Middle East making its way into sweet and savoury dishes, many of which are still popular today.
The trick with rose essences is to use very little, to give the merest hint of fragrance.
The result is an intriguing flavour. However, too much and it smells like a garden and is too overtly floral to enjoy with food. Rose and orange blossom essences are interchangeable.
One of the easiest ways to use rose water is to make up a light sugar syrup and add a few drops of rosewater. The syrup can be drizzled over fruit and pastries, or added to drinks.
A few drops streaked through cream, crème fraîche, and custards adds a delightful exotic edge, or a little added to rice puddings, baked semolina or mince meat will add a new dimension. Fruit salads are taken to new heights with the addition of just a few drops.
It is a key ingredient in Turkish delight and baklava, and is famously incorporated into a host of sweet Middle Eastern pastries.