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Orange Drops

May 31, 2000|CHARLES PERRY

In Latino markets, and sometimes in the Latino foods sections of supermarkets, you can often find mysteriously named ingredients in little cellophane packages. For instance, azahar.

Well, azahar itself isn't anything mysterious. It's dried orange blossoms. The Arabs introduced the orange to medieval Spain and with it the use of the blossoms as a flavoring. Azahar is simply al-zahr, the Arabic word for flower. The Moors so loved the scent of orange blossoms that they considered them the flower par excellence.

Those modern packets of azahar will mostly be used for herbal tea, but the Arabs made (and still make) a liquid flavoring from orange blossoms that they use the same way they use rose water, as a flavoring for sweets. Flower waters are the Middle Eastern equivalent of vanilla.

For some reason, a lot of Westerners have a problem with food that smells like roses, but they don't mind orange water so much. Maybe it's because they associate the scent of orange blossoms with weddings (and cake), rather than with thorny bushes. So if you're ever making one of those Middle Eastern sweets for people who might be rose-shy, consider using orange water. In fact, a discreet dash of orange water will boost the orange flavor in anything.

Another charming thing about orange water: In the Middle East, it's used as a soporific. So if you're having a hard time getting to sleep, try a glass of warm milk mixed with a little sugar and orange water. Or even azahar.

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