Florals Are The Flavor of Late Summer
While the floral flavor trend has been going strong for quite some time now, August feels like an ideal time to experiment with edible flowers.
Flowers as food: a brief history
Edible flowers have a long culinary history. In Persian antiquity, roses were distilled for both culinary and cosmetic purposes, just as they are today. Rose water and rose water syrup are popular in India and throughout the Middle East, including Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt, where they are used to flavor traditional desserts like rice pudding, nougat, baklava, lokum (Turkish delight), and marzipan. Rose water was also a popular flavoring in Britain and the United States before being replaced by vanilla in the 19th century.
Similarly, chrysanthemums were cultivated as early as the 15th century in China, where they are still enjoyed as a tea. Fried stuffed zucchini flowers are a specialty in Rome— they have been enjoyed by both Italian and Hispanic cultures for centuries. Carnation petals are a key ingredient in Chartreuse, a green liqueur invented by French monks in the 17th century, and agua de Jamaica (sweetened hibiscus tea) is still a popular drink in Mexico. Violet remains a popular flavor in France, and have long been cultivated across Europe for use in candies and liqueurs.
Whether used as a garnish or incorporated directly into recipes, flowers are a simple, elegant way to make a recipe feel special. Flowers also add fresh, ambrosial flavor and aroma to a wide variety of dishes, drinks, and baked goods.
common edible flowers:
Rose petals lend themselves wonderfully to a variety of sweet and savory applications. Halwa, lokum (Turkish delight), and rice puddings are all traditional uses for rose water, made from distilled rose petals. Petals can also be used to infuse sugar, water, and flavored syrup. Dried rose petals are also integral to Advieh, a traditional Persian spice mixture.
Rose Hips have a unique flavor akin to tart apples or plums. They are the fruit of the rose plant that ripens in autumn after the flower has been pollinated. They are often used in sweet applications like jams, jellies, and syrups.
Hibiscus is known for its ruby red color and tart flavor. It is used to make hot and cold tea everywhere from Trinidad to Egypt. Hibiscus can also be candied, used to make syrups, and is delicious in cocktails and other infusions.
Butterfly pea flowers are typically used to color food and beverages, as their bright blue color comes out when soaked. However, when the liquid is mixed with an acidic ingredient such as lime or lemon juice, it transforms into a beautiful shade of royal purple.
Zucchini (or squash) flower blossoms are more than just a pretty garnish. They have long been a part of both Italian and Mexican culinary cultures, where they are enjoyed fried, in quesadillas or stuffed and fried.
As always, safety is key when it comes to using edible flowers. Any edible flower should be purchased only from a reputable food vendor—never guess when it comes to plants, as toxicity is a risk. Even edible flowers may have been exposed to harmful pesticides. It’s also a good idea to use edible flowers sparingly, as they can cause digestive issues and trigger allergies.