There is a unique fragrance derived from Ketaki flowers. Its extract is known as Kewra water. This remarkable fragrance not only leaves a pleasant scent on your body and mind but also imparts a delightful aroma to food. Ketaki flowers are not only revered for their fragrance but are also utilised to enhance the flavour of various dishes. They are a common ingredient in many Indian sweets and are even used to prepare Mughlai non-vegetarian cuisines. Additionally, these flowers hold religious significance.
Just like how fragrance is extracted from various flowers, the same process is employed with Ketaki (Pandanus Flower). However, both Ketaki and Rose yield fragrant waters. Rose water is primarily used in medicines and cosmetic products, while Kewra water serves the dual purpose of enhancing the flavour and infusing a refreshing aroma into food. The Ketaki flower holds mythological significance in India, as described in the Shiva Purana. It is believed that Ketaki flowers are not offered in the worship of Lord Shiva, but they are highly cherished by Lord Shiva’s son, Ganesh.
Ketaki flowers come in two varieties, white and golden in colour. White Ketaki flowers are used to create Kewra water through the process of evaporation. In addition to the flowers, the slender branches and leaves of the Ketaki plant are utilised for this purpose. The leaves of this plant serve various other purposes, such as making mats, hats, and more due to their long, sharp, sticky, soft, and smooth nature.
In some regions, the tender leaves of Ketaki are even cooked and consumed, with Ayurveda recognising them for their expectorant properties.
Mukul Gandhi, the proprietor of the historical Mughal-era perfume shop Gulab Singh Johari Mal in Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, emphasises that Ketaki is among the unique flowers that can be used to create perfumes and scented water. Its fragrance is slightly sweet and delicate, making it a valuable addition to food, alongside the likes of vanilla and rose.
Food historians suggest that Kewra water has a long history of use in South Asian cuisine. Recently, its popularity has been on the rise in Western countries due to its delightful aroma-enhancing dishes. This increased demand has led to the availability of Kewra water from reputable companies and online sources, making it more accessible in kitchens worldwide. According to food expert and home chef Simmi Babbar, Kewra water saw a significant surge in usage during the Mughal period, becoming a crucial component in Mughlai dishes like biryani, korma, special kebabs, and desserts like phirni (kheer). This is because it not only adds flavour to the food but also imparts a delightful fragrance, enhancing the overall dining experience.