Ranging from traditional to contemporary preparations, edible flowers add both taste and colour to the dish.
Words: Rashmi Gopal Rao
The May 2018 royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle made headlines for more reasons than one. One of them was their unconventional choice of wedding cake that seemed to veer away from royal tradition. They chose to go in for a spring-inspired lemon elderflower cake that was covered in buttercream and decorated with fresh flowers that included fresh peonies and roses. A slice of the cake was served to the guests along with edible rose petals.
While this seemed quite unique, in reality there are several species of flowers that are edible and hence used commonly in cooking. They find their way into salads, soups, main courses, desserts and even cocktails.
Integral to Indian cuisine
While rose, hibiscus, jasmine, marigold, neem flowers and banana flowers are quite common in Indian cuisine; carnations, lavender, tulip petals, primrose and English daisy are yet other flowers that are edible. “Edible flowers are a great way of adding colour, style and extra flavour to your dishes” says Chef Rajinder Sareen, Executive Sous Chef, Sheraton Grand Bangalore.
Flowers have been used in cooking from ancient times, especially in Indian cuisine. With a whole world of goodness packed into them, the flowers of white Hibiscus, Moringa Oleifera (Drumstick flowers) and Roselle (Gongura flowers) are used in teas, chutneys, curries and dal prepared at home. “One of the most popular flowers used across India are banana flowers that lend itself to multiple preparation styles depending on the region where it is cooked. Neem flowers are used in a popular festive drink in Telangana and Karnataka called Ugadi pachadi – a refreshing drink that helps the body to transit from winters to summers,” says Chef Varun, Executive Chef Novotel Hyderabad Airport.
Modern culinary preparations
Bitters and cocktails
Edible flowers are popular in cocktails and mocktails too. They are also used in the preparation of bitters which are essentially a concentrated liquid extraction of various parts of the plant including its flower. They are used to flavour cocktails. “We use the flower and herb of rosemary to make a cocktail called ‘Rosemary Land’. The natural pungent smell that rosemary has, makes this cocktail very popular. Elderflower is also used in a cocktail called ‘Summer Redefined’ due to the innate herbal flavour it possesses on top of the floral notes” says Prathik Shetty, founding partner, The Reservoire. While jasmine flowers are used in a hop-based bitter, hibiscus is used in beetroot bitters.
Health benefits and dos and don’ts
Edible flowers too pack an immense amount of goodness in them and many of them have considerable nutritional value. Flowers specially with deeper colours, are very high in antioxidants. They also contain Vitamin A, C and E. “Lavender is a very soothing flower whose oil is used in aroma therapy. It is believed to be good for controlling blood pressure, pain relief and is a good muscle relaxant. Jasmine oil has a cooling effect on the body and helps in calming the nerves,” says Balakrishnan Subramanyan, Mixologist & Managing Partner, The Old Fashioned Bar. Hibiscus is good for blood pressure issues and helps maintain cholesterol levels apart from being good for the digestive system
There are few things to keep in mind while using edible flowers. Before using any of the edible flowers, clean them thoroughly by dipping them in water. It is advised that they are not subjected to high heat or cooking, minimal cooking or blanching can be done to enhance the colour of the flowers. Ideal is to rest the flowers in an ice bath to retain its crispness and freshness. “Banana flowers need to be cleaned properly with oily fingers otherwise you end up with sticky fingers. Take out the banana florets and keep them in thin buttermilk to avoid change in colour” says Chef Sahil Ratta, Sous Chef, XOOX Brewmill.
All in all, the key is to keep the dish or drink simple so that flavour or essence of the flower is not over powered.