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Food trends: Edible flowers

7 February 2019
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Vanessa Ortynsky

Eating our greens is something most of us do every day. Not to mention, we’d be lost without the tastes and textures of fruit. Yet somehow, over the years, using flowers in our food and drinks has waned in popularity.

In ancient Chinese and Roman cultures, flowers were frequently used in cooking, with a resurgence in the 1970s. Fortunately, edible flowers have once again become popular in Canterbury and throughout the country with many restaurants and bakers incorporating their unique flavours into dishes of all kinds.

Definition

A flower is “edible” if it ticks a couple of boxes. Of course, it must be intrinsically non-toxic and cannot have been exposed to anything toxic (e.g. poisonous sprays). Attractive in colour, taste varies from mildly floral (violas), to savoury (nasturtium) to sweet and intense (lavender and roses). Some will have fragrance, but not all. Lots of flowers can be used whole (e.g. pansies, violas, campanulas) but with most it’s best to pluck off the petals and add these to the dish.

Where to find them
Marion Smith is an edible flower grower who, in 2017, created Petal & Co (petalandco.nz). Her aim was to provide chefs and bakers in Christchurch and North Canterbury with access to local, fresh, edible flowers and leaves – and she’s growing strong.

Her flowers are grown and harvested at her home, just 20 minutes north of Christchurch, where they grow naturally in compost-rich soil for optimum flavour and longevity. Local restaurants and cafés appreciate the unique flavours and appearance of edible flowers – here are some of our favourites:

Tuam Street Kitchen

New on the scene, Tuam Street Kitchen (at No 28) incorporates edible flowers into many dishes. Think smoothie bowls, hotcakes and even salads. We love stopping in for creative meals that are equal parts beautiful and delicious.

Ivory Bar

A North Canterbury heritage building in Rangiora has been transformed into upscale bar and restaurant called Ivory Bar. It’s quickly become known for its delicious tapas and intricate cocktails, many of which are served with edible flowers.

Liquor King Carlton

LK Carlton (17 Papanui Road) recently reinvented itself with a brand new fit-out. The concept store has different zones: The Conservatory showcases white wine and clear spirits, The Brewhouse focuses on beer, and The Distillery is home to all the whiskys and dark spirits. LK Carlton also stocks plenty of snacks that pair well with drinks. Believe us, this isn’t your average bottle shop.

Benefits

Adding edible flowers to a dish will enhance it in so many ways. Often the first thing noticed will be the colour and beauty added by the flowers, next the different textures and subtle flavours. Food just looks so good enhanced with petals and flowers.

Many flowers are incredibly good for you as well. Calendula (pot marigold) for example has all sorts of benefits including anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties.

What types are edible

Many people are already growing edible flowers in their gardens without even realising it! While the list of everyday edible flowers can be surprisingly large, many different groups of plants are represented. Most common, perhaps, are the annual edibles including nasturtium, marigolds, nigella, cornflowers and zinnia, as well as the ubiquitous viola and pansies.

Perennials (which don’t need replanting every year) are represented with the roses and lavender, as well as dahlias, phlox, fuchsia and many more.

Lots of herbs have very cute flowers that usually taste like the parent plant, but with the bonus of being oh-so pretty. Think chives, sage, thyme, rosemary and basil.

Vegetables and salad plants can often have tasty flowers. Ignore your broccoli for long and be rewarded by hundreds of small delicious flowers. It’s the same with radishes, beetroot, and rocket – extra tasty in a fresh green salad.

Even plants often classed as weeds can have beautiful and tasty edible flowers. Young dandelion flowers are beautiful and clover flowers are sweet and pretty.

Harvesting

Pick flowers in the cool of the morning and make sure they are clean and bug free. If you need to store them, make sure they are dry and put them in a sealed container in the fridge. Most flowers will keep for a couple of days in this way.

Serving presentation

There are a multitude of ways to use edible flowers on your food. Cakes look extra beautiful decorated with flowers. Try similar sizes (maybe of violas and cornflowers) in a ring around the outside, or mix it up with a couple of large flowers centrally with smaller ones surrounding (roses and dianthus are beautiful together). A combination of complete blooms and petals is also effective.

All plates of food look extra appetising with some judicious edible flower action. A smattering of chive flowers on soup, a scatter of marigold petals over a casserole, or a gorgeous primula delicately placed next to that delicious piece of cheesecake.

As well as serving edible flowers fresh as a garnish, you can also quite successfully dry many types for future use – useful if you have a glut in your garden.

Pressing flowers for cake decorations is quite popular at the moment and this can give a whole new dimension to the bloom by becoming transparent and ethereal.

Crystallising flowers is a way of preserving them, while giving added visual and taste appeal. This is a simple process that sees caster sugar dusted onto petals wetted with whisked egg white (or gum Arabic for a vegan alternative). Left to dry for at least 24 hours, they become a show-stopping addition to sweet treats.

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