Distilled from bitter orange blossoms, orange flower water is at the same time exotic and homey – it's common in French and Middle Eastern cuisines, but also reminds you of oranges from an American grocery. Max Falkowitz, a food writer for "Saveur" and "Food & Wine," describes the slightly bitter orange flavor in orange flower water as a field of wildflowers. You can't capture that exact mix of wild and tame oranges in substitutes for orange flower water, also called orange blossom water or azahar, but you can come close.
Like orange flower water, rose water is a potent distillation, in this case, of rose petals. Rose water is both intensely perfumed and at the same time delicate in the way that roses can be. For that reason, you can use it in the same very small portions, about 1/8 to 1/2 teaspoon at a time, as you would orange flower water. The difference being of course, that your baklava, cake or rice pudding will taste like roses instead of oranges.
Made by distilling orange rinds in alcohol, orange extract is even more potent than orange flower water. You can use it wherever you might use the water, in drinks, cakes, icings and sauces. Begin with just a few drops of the extract, and taste as you go. Orange extract adds flavor without additional liquid, so if you substitute the extract for the water in baked goods, add a bit more water to make up for the lost liquid.
Orange Flavored Liqueurs
Like orange extracts, orange liqueurs give your food a big boost of flavor for a small amount of liquid. Orange liqueurs typically have additional flavors beyond orange itself. Cointreau is intense and slightly bitter, triple sec is sweet but not overpoweringly so, and Grand Marnier has spices and vanilla in addition to bitter orange flavors. You'll use such a small amount of liqueur to substitute for orange flower water, that the alcohol content will be negligible.
As their name implies, orange bitters are made from the zest, or rind, of bitter oranges and alcohol. Some bitters are actually a bit sweet and fruity, while others have a few spices in the mix and some have many spices, such as cardamom, cinnamon and coriander. All orange bitters have a more bitter taste than orange flower water, but you can use them sparingly in recipes that call for the water. Like liqueurs, the alcohol content will be measured in teaspoons and will not really count in your daily alcohol intake.
Cherry, lemon, vanilla, maple, peppermint and almond extracts all contain the same level of intense flavor and potency as orange extract. If you don't mind changing the flavor of your cocktail, cake or icing, you could substitute one of these extracts for orange flower water. Add a bit more liquid to baked goods if you substitute with an extract.
Susan Lundman began writing about her love of cooking, ingredient choices, menu planning and healthy eating after working for 20 years on children's issues at a nonprofit organization. She has written about food online professionally for ten years on numerous websites, and has provided family and friends with homemade recipes and stories about culinary adventures. Lundman received her M.A. from Stanford University.