There's a new trend in fresh food these days, and it's extremely pretty: flowers!
Adorning the menus of fine restaurants and color-addicted instagrammers alike, add this new floral obsession to your own clean cooking and watch your recipes truly bloom.
First, let's talk varieties. It's important to note that not every flower is edible, and in fact, only a few are suited for cooking. Some flowers you may actually already be using and not realize it, like saffron! Others culinary flowers may be a new ingredient in your kitchen, such as marigolds, roses, lavender, flowers from produce and herbs (such as arugula flowers, squash flowers, or chive flowers), fruit tree blossoms, nasturtiums, violets, borage, pansies, and geraniums. Many of these types are ones you can grow yourself in your own backyard, so long as you don't use pesticides and chemicals outside. (If foraging, be sure your flowers have not been sprayed. Do not use flowers found in floral markets for cooking, as they have been chemically treated are not suitable for eating.)
In terms of the flavor of flowers, there is quite a wide range, as you can imagine. Most flowers are bitter, even a little peppery and spicy, but offer perfume-y notes that are nuanced to the individual variety in use. Generally speaking, you can get a sense of the flavor of a flower simply by the smell of the bud - unsurprisingly, rose will taste a little like â€œrose,â€ and marigold a little like â€œmarigold.â€ Flowers are rather pungent, and for the most part, they are something to be used in very small quantities, almost like a spice, or as a color and flavor accent.
There are many ways to add flowers to dishes. The first, and easiest, is to use petals as a garnish. A few petals on top of virtually any dish can instantly enliven an entire plate. Try adding a few geranium petals to your next salad, stud the peak of a vegetable pasta with a nasturtium, or adorn the top of your next cacao dessert with a confetti made of julienned rose petals. Adding flowers in this manner won't effect the flavor of your dish, but it will certainly make it look more beautiful
â€‹The second way to use flowers is to use them as whole, but this time as a flavoring element. You can use dried forms of potent varieties, like lavender, and add them in small amounts to baked recipes like cookies [link to rose cookie recipe] or breads. Keep in mind the flavor of flowers is very potent, and they should be treated like a background herby note - something that supports and infuses with your recipe, rather than overpowering it.
Lastly, you can add flower flavor without using the actual petals through infusions and extractions. For example, you can steep a flower tea, like hibiscus, and use the tea to create exciting new smoothies, like a maqui-hibiscus blend, or unique sauces like a sweet jasmine-pomegranate vinaigrette. Some flowers are sold in extract form, like rose water and orange blossom water - both popular flavorings used in Moroccan cooking - which are an effective way adorn everything from desserts to pilafs.
Flowers are such a great way to add fresh excitement to dishes, and there are so many unexpected uses for them. Do you use flowers for culinary purposes? What's your favorite method?