Flowers captivate with their vibrant colors and beautiful shapes. It is usually forgotten that besides appealing to the senses of smell and vision, they also have the potential to delight the palate. Flowers as a garnish or decorative element for baking and cooking have been around for centuries in different cultures around the world, and currently are a hot trend that is continuously evolving and giving chefs the opportunity to innovate.
Flowers come in a wide range of different varieties and possess very different qualities that vary from species to species, qualities such as flavor, color and texture. These qualities ultimately define the best use of each flower, depending on what they are being used for and what they are being paired with. The use of flowers in culinary applications has been seen in various renowned cuisine from around the world, including floral infused beverages, teas and delicate desserts.
The use of flowers as garnishes and ingredients in restaurant and home cuisine has become tremendously popular. A recognizable sign of this fact is the availability of these edible flowers among the fresh herbs in many grocery stores. There are over 250 species of edible flowers around the world, all providing a unique opportunity to innovate and add new flavors to even the most traditional recipes. According to the article “Cocina con Flores (Cooking with Flowers)” on the Buena Salud magazine website, florals not only add artistic flair to dishes, they also add valuable nutrients and healing properties such as:
• Vitamins A, B, C and E, especially nasturtiums and roses
• A variety of minerals that are fundamental for the optimal functioning of our organisms, and at the same time many of these flowers also contain small quantities of amino acids, proteins and starches
• The flower’s mucilage – a type of soluble fiber found in some plants – helps reduce the levels of bad cholesterol and clean the organism
• Violets and lavender are recommended for combatting colds and throat infections due to their antibacterial properties. These two species are also known for their capacity to reduce headaches and act as a natural relaxant.
Cooking with flowers can be very simple, but there are some basic rules that Buena Salud magazine thinks everyone should follow. When cultivating your own flowers at home, the flowers should not be harvested until right before they are about to be served; this way they are completely fresh. If bought, they should be stored in the refrigerator inside a hermetic container and on top of wet paper. It is necessary to keep in mind that for some flower species used in the kitchen, one should take the time to remove the flower’s stamen and base while washing them since sometimes these parts of the flower can add a sour flavor.
Flowers can be used in the kitchen in many ways. Flowers can be simply added to a fresh garden salad, or infused in water and then used as base for sauces and pastries. Also, the aroma of many flowers can be incorporated into any pastry by using sugar that has been previously infused with the aroma of particular flowers. As Buena Salud magazine shares, infusing the aroma of a flower into sugar is simple, just put sugar and one fourth of its volume in petals in a sealed container and let it sit for at least a week.
Get inspired and view recipes infused with flowers
Picking the right flower for cooking and baking takes more than just letting your nose lead the way, and to make the choosing process a bit more exciting, here are some recommendations from Food and Garden Experts Cathey Wilkinson Barash and Linda Stradley on the most common species used in modern cuisine along with a brief description of their taste and possible uses:
Nasturtiums: This flower species is the most well-known edible flower since it is usually seen as part of salads served in high-end restaurants, it is usually present in salads because its bold orange or scarlet color livens up mixed greens. Besides being recognized by their bold colors, nasturtiums are recognized for their peppery and sometimes spicy flavor. The petals can also be used in alcoholic drinks and as an infusion in vinegars.
Pansies: These varietals are a favorite among chefs around the world as they come in a great variety of colors. Pansies can be used on fish, cheeses, pastas, salads, desserts and soups, making the flower’s wintergreen flavor one of the most versatile ones. The beautiful colors and shape of this flower allows chefs to dress up even the simplest of hors d’oeuvres.
Calendula: Also called Marigolds, Calendulas are a beautiful flower similar to a daisy. Its yellow or orange petals provide a flavor that ranges from tangy to peppery. Its petals can be used like saffron, but in order to obtain this effect, one must chop the petals and cook them with some oil to intensify the color and flavor of the flower. Calendula can be used to add aroma to broths and drinks, and its petals can be added to salads and pastries that contain egg such as quiches and flans.
Violets: This bold colored flower has a smooth, sweet and delicate taste, which allows for fresh, dry or candied consumption. Their sweet taste has been used for centuries for the creation of violet infused chocolates and candies, and their beautiful appearance is frequently used as a decorative element for pastries and drinks.
Lavender: One of the most versatile flowers out there, lavender possesses a delicate, sweet floral flavor with sour citrus hints of flavor. The leaves of lavender tend to be more perfumed than the flower itself, but they both can be equally used for a wide range of recipes, such as infusing champagne and vinegars, to flavoring stews, and also adding an intriguing sweet hint of flavor to any pastry or dessert.
Jasmine: These flowers have a profound and intense aroma, and have traditionally been used in Asian cuisine for centuries. Due to their intense aroma, these flowers’ petals are mostly used for infusing teas and perfuming traditional dishes such as jasmine rice.
Roses: The most widely known flower because of its strong ,sweet scent and usually vibrant red color. This flower’s flavor depends on a few factors: the type, color and soil conditions it was cultivated in. It offers a wide range of flavors, and it is most commonly sweet with delicate hints of flavor ranging from mint to spice. All rose varieties are edible, and the varieties with more vibrant colors are known to have a sweeter and more intense flavor than the other lighter ones. Roses are usually used as garnish in salads and desserts, and their petals are commonly also used in the production of syrups, jellies, perfumed butters and spreads.
Lilac: This beautiful miniature flower’s flavor tends to vary from plant to plant. It is known for being very fragrant and slightly bitter. The flower’s flavor has a very distinguishable hint of citrusy lemon with a delicate flower flavor. Lilacs are a good addition to salads, and they are also a good treat when crystallized with egg whites and sugar.
Dandelions: This flower is commonly known for its honey-like flavor. They are the sweetest when harvested young and their buds are usually tastier than the flower itself. Dandelions are excellent raw or steamed, they can be made into wine or tossed in salads, and their petals make for a delicious confetti when used to garnish over rice.
When looking for the right flower to use in your kitchen, it is important to keep in mind that most varieties are only available during specific seasons. According to Communications Specialist, Alexandra Scheufler from the Chef ’s Garden, “As summer gets underway, the flower selection gets more diverse and abundant. We (Chef ’s Garden) sell a lot of flowering herbs, which double as seasoning and a garnish.” Scheufler additionally mentions that the most popular trend for this summer season is Citrus Coriander Blooms and also among the most trendy this year are the Lucky Sorrels with blooms, which Chef ’s Garden has introduced in several new varieties. They taste like sour green apple, so they are used for their flavor as they are for their color and beauty.
These are only a few of the many flowers that make for a tantalizing addition to any dish or dessert. Flowers provide any restaurant or home chef with a versatile tool that will take recipes to the next level, tying together the best aspects of any dish or dessert with their aromas, visual appeal and taste.
Edible Flowers, Cathey Wilkinson Barash, http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/newsletters/hortupdate/2008/jan08/EdibleFl.html
Edible Flowers are the New Rage in Hâute Cuisine, Linda Stradley, http://whatscookingamerica.net/EdibleFlowers/Edible-FlowersMain.htm
Cocina con Flowers (Cooking with Flowers), Buena Salud Magazine, http://www.revistabuenasalud.cl/cocina-con-flores/