Edible flowers - Nature's Gift
They've graced the loveliest gardens and the most elegant dinner tables--as centerpieces--but are often overlooked when it comes to cooking........sounds interesting isn't it...........so lets go to the world of flowers and feast our eyes with the nature's beautiful gift.
Edible Flower History
Flowers have held an eminent place in our art, religions, pharmacopoeia, and kitchens since ancient times. The culinary use of flowers dates back thousands of years with the first recorded mention being in 140 B.C. Flower cookery has been traced back to Roman times, and to the Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Indian cultures. Many different cultures have incorporated flowers into their traditional foods. Tangled pea vines and primitive roses are depicted on Bronze Age artifacts. Mustard flowers were included in Roman love potions for their aphrodisiac powers. Oriental dishes make use of daylily buds and the Romans used mallow, rose and violets. Italian and Hispanic cultures gave us stuffed squash blossoms and Asian Indians use rose petals in many recipes.
Flowers add romantic history to our food. They lend a charming, healthy, and unusual dimension to our tables. During Queen Victoria's reign there was a Primrose Day. A fanciful recipe for fairy cups called for a peck of flowers pounded with ladyfingers, three pints of cream, sixteen eggs and a little rosewater, buttered and baked with sugar on top.
Today, many restaurant chefs and innovative home cooks garnish their entrees with flower blossoms for a touch of elegance. The secret to success when using edible flowers is to keep the dish simple, do not add to many other flavors that will over power the delicate taste of the flower. Today this nearly lost art is enjoying a revival.
Always remember to use flowers sparingly in your recipes due to the digestive complications that can occur with a large consumption rate. Most herb flowers have a taste that's similar to the leaf, but spicier. The concept of using fresh edible flowers in cooking is not new.
Edible petals are easy to grow at home. They have become readily available at produce stores and farmers markets. Their flavors range from sweet to snappy and they compliment everything from artichokes to zabaglione.
Cooking with flowers
Bean blossoms have a sweet, beany flavor. Nasturtiums have a wonderfully peppery flavor similar to watercress and their pickled buds can be substituted for more expensive capers.
Capers are the unripened flower buds of Capparis spinosa, a prickly, perennial plant which is native to the Mediterranean and some parts of Asia. Their use dates back to more than 3000 B.C. where they are mentioned as a food in the Sumerian cuneiform Gilgamesh, an ancient retelling of a great flood and ark legend.
After the buds are harvested, they are dried in the sun, then pickled in vinegar, brine, wine or salt. The curing brings out their tangy lemony flavor, much the same as green olives.
The size of the buds range from tiny (about the size of a baby petite green pea) up to the size of a small olive. The smallest variety from the South of France, called nonpareil, is the most prized. Larger capers are stronger in flavor and less aromatic.
Capers have long been a favorite in the Mediterranean region. The small, green herb buds lend a piquant sour and salty flavor to salads, dressings, sauces, vegetables and a variety of main dishes.
Borage tastes like cucumber, and miniature pansies (Johny-Jump-Ups) have a mild wintergreen taste.
Violets, roses and lavender lend a sweet flavor to salads or desserts. Bright yellow calendulas are an economic alternative to expensive saffron, though not quite as pungent. Other flowers may have a spicy or peppermint flavor.
When in doubt, taste, but first be sure it's not poisonous.
Edible flower selection
With the widespread use of pesticides by commercial growers, it's important to select edible flowers from a supplier who grows them specifically for consumption. Do not eat flowers obtained from a florist.
It is best to grow them yourself, so you know they are completely pesticide-free. However, many grocery stores and gourmet markets now sell edible flowers. If you are choosing homegrown flowers to eat, be certain you know your flowers as not all flowers are edible. Some can cause serious stomach problems and some are quite poisonous. Pick homegrown flowers in the morning or late afternoon when the water content is high.
Select flowers that are freshly-opened, perky and free of any bug-eaten or diseased spots. Normally, the petals are the only portion to be eaten, with the notable exception of safflower and crocus (saffron) whose stigma are prized as an herb.
Edible flower storage
Be sure to wash flowers thoroughly by bathing them gently in a bath of salt water. Perk them up by dropping into a bowl of ice water for 30 to 60 seconds, and drain on paper towels. Then carefully remove petals or other parts to be consumed.
You may wish to trim off the whitish part of the petal where it connects to the stem as it can often be bitter. It's best to store flowers whole in a glass of water in the refrigerator until you need to use them. You can store petals for a day in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, but your optimum goal should be to use them within a few hours.
Preserving edible flowers
Edible flowers can be a fun addition to any meal, and with spring in full bloom, is a good time to experiment. Fresh flowers can be preserved for later use. Choose flowers with larger petals, such as pansies, and paint the petals with an egg-white wash using a soft brush. Use dehydrated, pasteurized egg whites to avoid food poisoning. After painting flowers with egg-whites, dust the petal with super-fine granulated sugar and allow the flower to dry. Store preserved flowers in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. These type of flowers (candied flowers) can be used for decorating the cakes and in liqueurs
Some of the edible flowers commonly used are:
Carnations: Though surprisingly sweet, the petals of carnations can be steeped in wine or used as cake decorations or in desserts after cutting away the bitter white base of the flower. Petals add colour to salads or aspics and Carnation petals, one of the secret ingredients have been used to make Chartreuse, a French liqueur, since the 17th century.
Chrysanthemums: Tangy, slightly bitter and ranging in colours from red, white, yellow and orange, they can taste either faint peppery to mildly like cauliflower. You can use them in salads by blanching them first and then scattering them on a salad. Chrysthemum leaves can also be used to flavour vinegar. You must always remember to remove the bitter flower base and use petals only.
Dandelions: Dandelion flowers are sweetest when picked young and just before eating. With a sweet, honey-like flavour, they taste good steamed or tossed in salads.
English Daisy: With a mildly bitter taste, daisies are most commonly used for their looks rather than their flavour. Use the petals as a garnish and in salads.
Lavender: A sweet, floral flavour with lemon and citrus notes, Lavender flowers not only look beautiful, they taste just as good in a glass of champagne, with chocolate cake or as a garnish for sorbets or ice creams. Lavender also lends itself to savoury dishes from hearty stews to wine-reduced sauces. Lavender oil is not to be consumed unless one is absolutely certain that it has not been sprayed and is culinary safe.
Radish Flowers: Depending on the variety, radish flowers range from pink, white or yellow in colour with a distinctive, spicy bite and are best used in salads.
Angelica - Depending on the variety, flower range from pale lavender-blue to deep rose. It has a flavor similar to licorice. Angelica is valued culinary from the seeds and stems, which are candied and used in liqueurs, to the young leaves and shoots, which can be added to a green salad. Because of its celery-like flavor, Angelica has a natural affinity with fish. The leaves have a stronger, clean taste and make a interesting addition to salads.
Banana Blossoms - Also know as Banana Hearts. The flowers are a purple-maroon torpedo shaped growth appears out of the top of usually the largest of the trunks. Banana blossoms are used in Southeast Asian cuisines. The blossoms can be cooked or eaten raw. The tough covering is usually removed until you get to the almost white tender parts of the blossom. It should be sliced and let it sit in water until most of the sap are gone. If you eat it raw, make sure the blossom comes from a variety that isn't bitter. Most of the Southeast Asian varieties aren't bitter.
Basil - Depending on the type, the flowers are either bright white, pale pink, or a delicate lavender. The flavor of the flower is milder, but similar to the leaves of the same plant. Basil also has different varieties that have different milder flavors like lemon and mint. Sprinkle them over salad or pasta for a concentrated flavor and a spark of color that gives any dish a fresh, festive look.
Hibiscus - Cranberry-like flavor with citrus overtones. Use slightly acidic petals sparingly in salads or as garnish. The wild hibiscus flower is edible with a luscious raspberry flavour. It not only provides a source of vitamin C but its antioxidant and cholesterol-lowering potential confers the same health benefits as tea and red wine.
Lotus: The flowers, seeds, young leaves, and "roots" (rhizomes) are all edible. In Asia, the petals are sometimes used for garnish, while the large leaves are used as a wrap for food. The rhizome are used as a vegetable in soups and stir-fried dishes. Petals, leaves, and rhizome can also all be eaten raw, but there is a risk of parasite transmission. Hence it is therefore recommended that they are cooked before eating. Chinese people have long known that Lotus roots are a very healthy food and have been using them in this way for many centuries. Recent studies confirm this - Lotus roots were found to be rich in dietary fiber, vitamin C, potassium, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, copper, and manganese, while very low in saturated fat.
Roses - Flavors depend on type, color, and soil conditions. Flavor reminiscent of strawberries and green apples. Sweet, with subtle undertones ranging from fruit to mint to spice. All roses are edible, with the flavor being more pronounced in the darker varieties. In miniature varieties can garnish ice cream and desserts, or larger petals can be sprinkled on desserts or salads. Freeze them in ice cubes and float them in punches also. Petals used in syrups, jellies, perfumed butters and sweet spreads. NOTE: Be sure to remove the bitter white portion of the petals. High in vitamin C and / or vitamin A, along with other essential nutrients, pick the flowers, rinse and place between damp paper towels. Refrigerate until ready to use. Some varieties may last longer if not washed until ready to use, whilst others may be dried and used like dried herbs.
Okra - Also known as Ochro, Okoro, Quimgombo, Quingumbo, Ladies Fingers and Gumbo. It has hibiscus-like flowers and seed pods that, when picked tender, produce a delicious vegetable dish when stewed or fried. When cooked it resembles asparagus yet it may be left raw and served in a cold salad. The ripe seeds have been used as a substitute for coffee; the seed can be dried and powdered for storage and future use.
Sage - The flowers are violet-blue, pink or white up to 1 3/8 inches long, small, tubelike, clustered together in whorls along the stem tops. Flowers have a subtler sage taste than the leaves and can be used in salads and as a garnish. Flowers are a delicious companion to many foods including beans, corn dishes, sauteed or stuffed mushrooms, or pesto sauce.
Sunflower - The flower is best eaten in the bud stage when it tastes similar to artichokes. Once the flower opens, the petals may be used like chrysanthemums, the flavor is distinctly bittersweet. The unopened flower buds can also be steamed like artichokes.
Violets - Sweet, perfumed flavor. Related flowers, Johnny jump-ups or violas, and pansies now come in colorful purples and yellows to apricot and pastel hues. The tender leaves and flowers may be used in salads, and also the flowers to beautifully embellish desserts and iced drinks. Freeze them in punches to delight children and adults alike. All of these flowers make pretty adornments for frosted cakes, sorbets, or any other desserts, and they may be crystallized as well. heart-shaped leaves are edible, and tasty when cooked like spinach.
Some Do's and Dont's in terms with edible flowers:
Never eat any flower unless you are sure about their edibility, if uncertain, consult a reference book on edible flowers before consumption.
For those growing their own edible flowers and pesticides are necessary, use only those products labelled for use on edible crops.
Do not eat flowers from florists, nurseries or garden centres, as in many cases these flowers have been treated with pesticides.
Do not eat flowers picked from the side of the road.
Pistils and stamens are to be removed from the flowers before eating.
Eat only the flower petals of most flowers.
Flowers should be introduced into one’s diet in small quantities, one species at a time. As everyone knows, too much of a good thing may cause problems for your digestive system.
Those suffering from allergies should introduce edible flowers gradually, as they can be aggravated.
Flowers for eating should be picked early in the day and used at their peak for the best flavour. Unopened blossoms, wilted or faded flowers are to be avoided as they may have a bitter or unappealing flavour.