Furthermore, flowers and herbs decorated “individual place settings, filled crevices of folded napkins, and floated in finger bowls filled with rose water.” The 1890 Jewel Cook Book by Mrs. Ella Wells even included a recipe of violet ink so that people could literally write personal notes and pen stories using flowers. You can find more information about the Victorian use of flowers here.
In today’s times, edible flowers, blossoms and blooms are once again serving as the crowning touches for culinary masterpieces, and in cocktails and mocktails – and here are seven reasons why they are so appealing and in demand.
Edible flowers and vegetable blooms in menus:
From the blue bachelor buttons that offer up notes of raw green bean to the orange citrus marigold that is reminiscent of bright tangerine and orange soda –to the banana cream viola bloom with the nostalgic taste of a Necco wafer . . . the bottom line is that edible flowers intensify flavors.
Here are even more examples:
Then there are vegetable blooms that add marvelous layers of flavors to a wide range of dishes. If, for example, you need a layer of mild wintergreen flavor for your salads, sandwiches, pasta dishes and more, fava bean blooms are an excellent choice. white pea blossoms make perfect sense for any dish that could use a delicate fresh pea flavor, including desserts. If you want a peppery flavor with a nutty undertone, then choose arugula blossoms; the flavor is zesty, somewhat milder than that of the leaves. Choose borage blooms for a mild cucumber flavor, one that has been described as the taste of sweet honey with a mildly salty touch.
Here is a blog post with more information about some of Farmer Lee Jones’s favorite vegetable blooms and flowers with flavor – and here are three more excellent examples of flavor-enhancing vegetable blooms:
These are just some of the ways that chefs use edible flowers to provide an added layer of flavor – and flavor is extremely important. But, there are six more reasons why these blossoms and blooms are so incredibly satisfying in dishes and drinks.
A 2015 article in the journal, Flavour, provides insight into how we also eat with our ears. Yes, with our ears. Here is the abstract of the study:
“Sound is the forgotten flavour sense. You can tell a lot about the texture of a food—think crispy, crunchy, and crackly—from the mastication sounds heard while biting and chewing. The latest techniques from the field of cognitive neuroscience are revolutionizing our understanding of just how important what we hear is to our experience and enjoyment of food and drink. A growing body of research now shows that by synchronizing eating sounds with the act of consumption, one can change a person’s experience of what they think that they are eating.”
If you have any doubt that humans are wired to “hear” their food and drink, listen to this. Ninety-six percent of people in a study could tell the difference between hot and cold water, just by listening. Seriously. Listen to the two sound clips yourself.
Then there is the concept of providing texture in a dish. In an article titled “Palate-Pleasing Textures,” texture is dubbed the “unsung hero of our food.” Elsewhere, the article notes that, “Crunchy and creamy, warm and cool, spicy and soothing — textural contrasts boost craveability” and it’s what “excites and delights your mouth and draws people to your food.”
The cucumbers with blooms are an ideal example of how one product can provide multiple sensory experiences, including those experienced by diners because of texture and crunch. The cukes themselves are delicately crispy, while the blossoms are velvety soft, crunchy and succulent. Pea blossoms and fava bean blooms also offer up a satisfying crunch, as a finishing touch to a dish. Violas, meanwhile, float beautifully on the tops of cocktails and mocktails, adding texture to the drinks.
Now, here’s a third way in which edible flowers provide the crowning touch to a dish or beverage.
“To which of our senses are we most indebted for the pleasures of the table? To name the sense of taste in answer to this question would be quite as incorrect as to assert that we go to the opera to please our eyes. More incorrect, in fact, because many do attend the opera chiefly on account of the spectacle; whereas, in regard to gastronomic delights it is safe to say that at least two-thirds of our enjoyment is due to the sense of smell.” (Henry T. Fincks, quoted in Flavour)
The sense of smell and the sense of taste are intricately connected – and Michigan State University Extension shares how this is true in two different ways. First, there is the orthonasal type of the sense of smell – which is what we typically think of. “Orthonasal” is just a fancy way of saying that we smell the food we’re about to eat, using our nose. There is another connection between the senses of taste and smell, though, called the retronasal sense, and that describes how our sense of smell kicks in after we put food into our mouths.
Edible flowers are an ideal way to add a pleasing aroma to a wide range of dishes, from salads to desserts – both orthonasally and retronasally. The dianthus, for example, would be ideal for Valentine’s Day with its romantic smell, similar to a garden in spring after a rain shower. Pink pansies provide the aroma of mint, while yellow snapdragons, when open, are pungent yet sweet.
Herbs and vegetable blooms also provide a delightful layer of fragrance to dishes. Anise hyssop, for example, gives off the unmistakable scent of black licorice, while fava bean blooms offer a pleasantly mild fragrance.
Here is the next benefit of edible flowers (and vegetable blooms!).
“Most edible flowers supply vitamin C, a nutrient that helps stave off infections. A cup of raw borage, for example, delivers 31.2 milligrams of vitamin C, which is about 42 percent of the 75 milligrams women need each day and 35 percent of the 90 milligrams men require daily. Nasturtiums are another flower source of vitamin C, and contain 10 times more vitamin C than lettuce, according to the ‘Vineyard Gazette.’ Nasturtiums also supply small amounts of vitamin D.” (Livestrong)
The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics shared the results of a study that analyzed nutritional value of 12 species of edible flowers. The flowers with the highest mineral content included chrysanthemum, dianthus and violas, with potassium being the most abundant mineral. Some blossoms are also polyphenol-rich, which provides a high antioxidant value. In fact, edible flowers may, researchers said, “have the potential to be used as an additive in foods to help prevent chronic disease and prevent food oxidation.”
Moving on to vegetable blooms, here’s just one example of how nutritional they really are: a cup of squash blossoms provide 23% of the daily requirement of calcium and 13% of the daily requirement for vitamin A, all with only five calories.
But that’s not all!
These nutritional powerhouses can also play a key role in storytelling, a skill that one of Asia’s top chefs says is crucial. More specifically, Gaggan Anand, whose restaurant has been placed for three years in a row at the top of the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, says the following: “Success comes from completing the circle. To be successful, we need to convert skills and talent into being a good cook; then move from being a cook to a great chef. And finally, from a chef to a restaurateur . . . To reach the pinnacle, one needs to convert from a restaurateur into a storyteller. This completes the circle.”
Historians have traced the use of flowers in culinary dishes back at least 5,000 years, when Ancient Chinese cultures used them in numerous recipes. Ancient Romans, meanwhile, used edible parts of violets and roses in their recipes, and added lavender to sauces. Native Americans used blossoms from squash plants and pumpkins in their dishes, with the Zini tribe being a huge fan of squash blossoms, gathering them early in the morning before the flowers even opened. They ate them fresh, and also fried them and used them in soups. They dried them, as well, and used them for winter nutrition. Edible flowers were also extremely popular, as we mentioned at the start of this post, in the Victorian era in England (1837-1901). These are the types of facts that you can use to verbally tell stories to your diners.
Although the earlier cultures may or may not have used flowers symbolically to tell stories, we know that people in the Victorian era did. They created a “language of flowers” known as floriography that allowed “even the most prudish and reticent to speak covertly of love or affection as well as darker emotions such as envy or rejection.”
Here, you’ll see Farmer Lee Jones and Jamie Simpson, the executive chef of the Culinary Vegetable Institute, walk through a greenhouse at The Chef’s Garden that is overflowing with edible flowers – and then you’ll see how these flowers are expressed and translated onto the plate.
So, where do you go from here? There are many ways to tell a story through edible flowers, with one way being to select them based on their symbolism. UniverseofSymbolism.com offers these types of descriptions for dozens and dozens of flowers, including:
A quote from this site also segues us into the next section, that of evoking emotions. It reads: “For thousands of years flowers have been given as tokens and symbols of love, friendship, affection, intentions, accomplishment and sympathy. The beauty in a flower evokes unexpressed thoughts and feelings that are sometimes difficult to find words for, and the giving or receiving of flowers opens our hearts to the vulnerable tenderness that so desires expression.”
“If you want to congratulate someone,” Farmer Lee Jones points out, “you often say it with flowers. If you want to let someone know how much you love him or her, or how much you miss that person, you often send flowers. There is something celebratory about flowers, something soothing, something that makes an otherwise ordinary event extra special.”
Farmer Lee shares his belief that edible flowers allow talented chefs to demonstrate their artistic side, using the plate as their canvas. “Flowers are one of God’s most beautiful gifts,” he says, “providing a pleasing sensation to human psyches, and the beautiful range of colors in flowers allows chefs to share their culinary gifts along with the gift of flowers artistically expressed with their diners.”
Edible flowers add depth and sophistication to culinary dishes and creative beverages alike – and you can strategically select them for the precise flavors you want to bring out in those drinks and dishes, complimenting flavor profiles in a way that’s similar to when a sommelier chooses wines for each course of a meal.
Finally, here’s the seventh reason why it just makes sense to use flowers, blooms and blossoms in your menus.
The example we’ll share here is about the vegetable bloom of French breakfast radishes. Several years ago, Bob Jones, Jr. spotted some radishes that weren’t harvested in time. They were blooming, so he planned to plow them under – and then make sure that, next time, the radishes would be harvested before they bloomed. The waste, you see, really bothered him.
Right before he started, though, Farmer Lee drove by with a visiting chef – and that chef jumped out of Lee’s vehicle, waving his arms as he ran in front of Bob’s tractor. By the time that Lee and Bob reached this chef, he was on his knees in the field, saying, “Do you have any idea what I could do with these blooms on my plates?”
This is when The Chef’s Garden began to cultivate, harvest and sell vegetable blooms. And, besides adding flavor, aesthetics, texture, crunch and more to dishes and drinks, using plants throughout their life cycle in every iteration is an excellent way to reduce food waste. And, as diners enjoy culinary masterpieces that are also addressing the enormous problem of food waste in the United States, they are truly dining with purpose.
Here’s more information about vegetable blooms and here is information about the variety of edible flowers at The Chef’s Garden. Dishes and drinks served at The Culinary Vegetable Institute often incorporate edible flowers, and you can find the list of events here.
Finally, here are additional blog posts of interest:
If you’ve used edible flowers and/or vegetable blooms in your creative dishes and drinks, we’d love to hear about it! Please contact us today!