Picturesque foods and restaurant platings are prettier than ever thanks to the blooming presence of a unique ingredient: edible flowers. These pops of color bring an organic beauty and go far beyond sugared violets on a wedding cake. Cited as far back to Roman times through Queen Elizabeth’s reign, edible flowers are used by everyone from renowned chefs to mixologists. Home cooks turned food photographers are popping up everywhere after seeing how aesthetic edible flowers are. While the flowers chosen by home cooks are more likely to come from their vegetable gardens, restaurant chefs go for the exotic over practicality. Proof of their popularity, Whole Foods included floral flavors as one of their top trends of 2018 including botanical flavors as well as whole flowers and petals.
Here is our guide to some traditional and unexpected edible flowers that will help your next application blossom.
The Classic List of Edible Flowers
While you’d expect to find flowers in sweet applications like desserts and drinks, several pack quite a punch for savory dishes. Consider zucchini blossoms paired with fresh pesto on top of pizza. Check out these blooms where innovation is having an impact.
Lavender –The essence of lavender is in beverages, baked goods and more. Lavender is related to mint and rosemary and has a sweet, flowery yet herbal, astringent quality. Norr Skyr yogurt showcases lavender extract in their nonfat blueberry and lavender product. It is predicted that we’ll see more lavender in savory applications.2
Hibiscus –Found in teas and Mexican beverages, hibiscus has a flavor associated with the tartness found in cranberries. Hibiscus recently was featured by popsicle startup, Chillwaukee, in a cranberry orange version confection at Milwaukee’s Winter Farmers’ Market. The brand also makes a blueberry hibiscus flavor.
Nasturtium – With a name that translates to “nose twist” in Latin, nasturtiums pack a peppery, powerful punch and their buds and leaves are edible too. Floral Elixirs Co’s (Cleveland) is harvesting the power of the nasturtium and pairing it with lemon for a flowery syrup perfect for cocktails and fun for experimenting with in baked goods. The line also has elixirs of other popular edible flowers including rose hips, violets and cherry blossoms.
Calendulas officinalis / pot marigold – Known as the “poor man’s saffron,” as it has a strikingly similar taste when sautéed in olive oil, Calendulas add that bright yellow color to rice dishes. They also contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatories to help treat ailments like conjunctivitis or gastric upsets. “Lemon Gem” and “Tangerine Gem” marigolds are the only ones with edible petals.3
Rose petals – Interchangeable with strawberries and apples when it comes to flavor, rose petals are a staple in Persian cooking used in the cuisine’s spice blend called advieh. Celebrity chef Yotom Ottolenghi has a famed Persian Love Cake , a sweet tea cake featuring rose petals, in his book Sweet.
Sunflower petals – While the bud can be steamed and eaten just like an artichoke, the petals of this majestic flower bring a bold yellow color and a bittersweet flavor, and the stalk tastes a bit like celery.
Bachelor’s Button (cornflower)
Spotted and Seen / Edible Flowers
Butterfly pea flowers – With a glowing vibrant blue color, butterfly pea flowers are lighting up Instagram in these dumplings, and Pinterest. Suncore Foods has a Superjuice butterfly pea powder that can be used to get a periwinkle blue that would be right at home in a unicorn smoothie or anywhere a pop of blue is desired.
Elderflower – Described as having a sweet, slightly musky yet floral flavor, the elderflower rose to celebrity status for its role as a main ingredient in Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding cake. A Swedish staple, Ikea carries a traditional Swedish elderflower syrup (in store only) and Trader Joe’s has a sparkling beverage that blends elderflower and lemon to accessorize a cocktail.
Nasturtiums 2.0– Cult-favorite cheesemaker, Woodside Cheese Wrights’ has a famous Monet goat cheese that is now available in the U.S. Topped with a garden of edible flowers with nasturtiums as the base, this cheese will hopefully be joined with another of the brand’s favorites, the Anthill. Covered in native Australian green ants, this award-winning cheese has intrigued cheese lovers, and Americans await its arrival.
Borage – Seen all over Instagram for its delicate and distinctive periwinkle blue bloom, borage has a mild cucumber flavor that is perfect in cocktails. Baltimore’s Sailor Oyster Bar infuses Pimm’s with borage and blends it with cucumber and lemon for the perfect light summer cocktail.
Fancy up your next savory or sweet application by infusing it with edible flowers. Adding one of our real food ingredients is the perfect accessory for mouthwatering umami.
Tips for Using Edible Flowers:
Do your research. Not all flowers are edible.
- When using edible flowers, the petals are the safest bet. The pistil and stamen have a risk of pollen allergens.
- Be certain your chosen flower is free of toxins or pesticides especially if you plan on immersing them in sauces or beverages.
- Don’t forget the edible flower options in a vegetable garden. Letting plants go to seed results in beautiful flowers that have a subtle taste of the vegetable. Good candidates are arugula, coriander, basil, radishes, sage and squash blossoms.
- When working with edible flowers, always give them a good wash with cold water and let dry overnight. Introduce flowers into your diet in small quantities one species at a time.
- The Vineland Research Centre (Ontario, Canada) has studied edible flowers thoroughly and has found that consumers fall into two camps: bold flavor lovers (56%) or smooth texture lovers (44%).1 And their attraction towards edible flowers falls right in line with these attributes. For instance, consumers who love bold flavors find nasturtiums appealing while smooth flavor lovers favor impatiens.