Vicki Mayrick talks us through the flowers that can transform dishes and drinks with colour, crunch, flavour and aroma.
Edible flowers have been kitchen ingredients since the Roman times. In the 16th and 17th century, petals were pickled and whole flowers added to salads and meats – but the practice fell out of fashion. Thanks to celebrity chefs, royal wedding cakes and Instagram worthy cocktails adorned with blossoms, edible blooms have made a comeback. Vicki Mayrick talks us through the flowers that can transform dishes and drinks with colour, crunch, flavour and aroma.
Courgette flowers – although extremely delicate – are perhaps the most substantial of the edible flowers. Delicious raw, yet also capable of being stuffed, battered and deep-fried, they offer a world of possibilities. Classic pairings include cheese, cream and pancetta. Experimental recipes match a variety of stuffing suggestions. From left over fish pie and risottos, to even baked beans (!) – with added fresh tomatoes of course. The flowers don’t last long, so buy and cook on the same day.
Borage produces star-shaped, sapphire-blue flowers that are as appealing to the eye as they are the palate. Borage’s leaves, stalks and flowers are all edible, and each have a fresh, cucumber-like taste – making them the perfect addition to spring salads. When paired with seafood and shellfish, they bring crispness to the rich, flavours of mussels, mackerel.
With bold sunshine yellow or vivid orange colouring, the nasturtium flower brings a spicy kick and a satisfying crunch to salads. For serious salad goers, pickle the flower buds in vinegar and a little sugar. They taste peppery and caper‑like and will store, refrigerated, for months – ready to be thrown in to tomato salsas and pasta dishes at a moments notice.
All rose petals are edible, but the most useful in the kitchen are the scented ones, because it’s the scent that translates into taste. If possible always use fresh rose petals – as the quality and flavour is extraordinarily different. Add a handful of into buttercream icing before smothering over a light, fluffy Victoria sponge, to create something a little different and very delicious.
Readily available in the UK in jars of syrup, Hibiscus flowers add flavour and flamboyancy to cocktails. Add to prosecco for a splash of colour, or mix with gin, freshly squeezed lemon juice, tonic water and serve over ice for the ultimate spring drink.
Petals from the viola family of flowers are among the most popular edible blooms when it comes to baking, both in look and flavour. Their bold purple colour stands out against a backdrop of white icing, and their floral sweetness goes well with lemon and chocolate.
If foraging your flowers, pick before the sun becomes too strong – either early morning once the dew has evaporated – or late in the afternoon when the heat of the day has passed. Flowers from florists shouldn’t be used in the kitchen due to the chemicals used on the crops. Finally, if you’re in doubt about whether a flower is edible, don’t eat it.