So, in my involvement in FFA, I have been to nationals in Floraculture as well as in Food Science. So lucky I am that the two co-relate!
You might think that flowers are bitter. That was my first impression. When I thought about how a flower might taste, I thought of how a tree leaf might taste. Grassy and gross. However, once again, there are things about the world around us that aren’t just edible, but flavorful, colorful, and nutritious.
Flowers have been ingested for thousands of years by the Greeks, Chinese, and Indians. However today they’ve been reduced to a couple of processed foods and possibly a garnish at a fancy restaurant. And while color is an important aspect flowers can provide to food, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
There are many ways to prepare flowers. First of, there’s candying. The art of candying flowers has been around for over a century. You can candy almost anything. Flowers are no exception. What you basically do is paint a mixture of egg whites with sugar and vodka onto the flower. The sugar and vodka will extract the flavor and dry out the flower, extending the shelf life up to six months. And overall it makes the flower sturdier and sweeter. You can candy a whole flower, or individual petals. It’s up to you. While you can eat these flowers on your own (rose petal potato chips anyone?), candied flowers are still most commonly used in decoration. You can find a recipe here.
If the shape of the flower isn’t important to you, but you still want the unique color and flavor of the of the flower, I recommend making flower-sugar. This is a way to combine a flavor of a flower into a sugar form, making floral-flavored colored sugar. What you do is blend dried flowers into sugar with a food processor, and Voila! Flower sugar. Just make sure not to heat it up during the production process, because heat will kill the aroma and flavor of the flower. More detailed process here. Flower sugar can be used in candles, cookies, and everything in between. Since sugar is so universally used, there are no limits to the application of this.
Another method of preparation is just drying the desirable parts of the flower and crushing them up for baking. You’re basically making a spice out of it. Can translate flavor well, depending on the flower.
Some uses that focus more on the visual include: freezing them in ice cubes, suspending them in clear gelatin, including them in a salad, etc. There’s too many possibilities to include in one blog post. My personal favorite use of flowers in food is ice cream. I went to an ice cream store in Portland, OR called Salt and Straw. While I was there, I was able to try Lavender Honey ice cream. This was the first time I had ever eaten a strong floral flavor of ice cream. I totally recommend.
Before you make floral food yourself, there are a few safety things you need to remember. First, be careful about what flowers you eat. Some are poisonous. Correctly identify the flower. Second, make sure that you know where these flowers are coming from. Preferably, grow them yourself. Do not consume flowers from unfamiliar gardens, or from florists. These have loads of pesticides because they aren’t intended to be eaten.
Also, make sure to remove the center parts of the flower (the anther and stamen) as they contain pollen which may cause allergies, and isn’t something you want to eat anyway. The petals are what you want. Anything else is to provide structure for garnish: nothing else.
Also remember that every flower is different. Like I said, there are too many flowers to name here, but it’s important to understand how every one works.
Now that you understand the basics of how to prepare flowers, I’ll go over a few characteristics common edible flowers:
Bee Balm: Red and minty. Helps sore throat, fever, and congestion, as well as digestion issues. Can be used in teas, salads, and dried products. Repels insects.
Carnations: Clove flavor. Historically treated nervousness and seasickness as a tea. Reduces inflammation and congestion. One of the earliest cultivated flowers. Early Christians believed they were created when Mary wept during the crucifixion.
Marigolds: Vibrant sunset colors. Spicy and tangy. Every part is edible. Petals can act as a cheap substitute for the spice saffron. Makes bland tea.
Chamomile: Sweet. Used in sleepy-time tea. Historically recognized for smelling like apples. Can be brewed into strong beverages.
Cilantro: Taste a lot like the leaves; grassy; use only petals. Can be used basically any way you could think to use the leaves.
Gladiolus: Bland, but can be used to hold stuffed products, as the chamber is deep. Remove innards before stuffing.
Hibiscus: Tart cranberry flavor. Tropical. Famous for use in teas.
Jasmine: Very strong aroma and taste. Commonly used in perfume. Use with plenty of sugar.
Citrus Blossoms: Oranges, Lemons, Grapefruit, etc. They’re sweet, and they translate the flavor of the fruit.
Lavender: Spicy and iconic. Commonly used in bake goods in dry crushed form. I recommend buying culinary lavender.
Lilac: Pungent, floral, and citrus-y. Here’s a link to directions for syrup, jin, and scones.
Rose: Strong perfumed flavor. The darker the stronger. Used in tea. Related to apples, plums, and other fruits. The rose hips (the fruit) can be used for a variety of things as well.
Violets: These are popular, sweet, and floral. Can be cooked into a lot of things, are are the best flower to make flower sugar with.
You can find more edible plants and their uses here. Remember that there is always something new to be discovered in food science, and that what you may not think of as a food can sometimes be just as realistic as anything.