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Oct 19, 2010 05:51 AM

Floral Flavors in Foods: Shades of Paradise?

Isn't it neat to think of the floral aromatics (rose) in food in mid-eastern cuisine, which florals are very unusual in "western" cuisine? Right now, I can't think of any floral in western cuisine, except for the lavender in Herbs de Provence.

When i think of rose-scented food, i think of the Persian Empire, or the heydey of the Moghul Empire.... Pardon me, i'm waxing romantic.

Perhaps by eating the rose, they were ingesting some of the garden of "paradise," expecting some transport to another era or state of being. In essence, were they being "romantics" as well?

Much of this post is from another thread, and was inspired by Buttertart's reminder to me of rose-scented kulfi.

What other florals are incorporated into foods? Why the East-West divide in the flavors and the degree of their incorporation into food?

Is there particular meaning or import in their usage?

What are your other thoughts?

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  1. How 'bout Barely Buzzed--cheddar with lavender and ground coffee beans?

    I'm a lavender lover. Made simple syrup (for a nice cocktail or sexed up lemonade) and gelato with it (lavender mint, to be precise). Ooh, and lavender creme brulee, too! Does that make me a romantic (kidding, sis!)?

    1 Reply
    1. re: kattyeyes

      Peet's has an Earl Grey with lavender (instead of bergamot) that might interest you.

    2. Last night, after tasting an out of this world Oolong green tea (harvested fresh this summer in China), with its floral jasmine-like scent, I lay in bed wondering about this "florals" in foods theme.

      Then it dawned on me that I had missed the most widespread use of florals probably anywhere -east or west: VANILLA! Don't quibble that it isn't technically a floral, please (although that is like asking Niagara Falls to go backwards).

      Further, I thought, there is SAFFRON -- though that spans east and west, thanks to the Moors and the spice routes, I strongly suspect.

      Finally, in three for three, I though of the wonders of HONEY, which benefits from the bees diligent transmutation of the nectar from so many different types of florals.

        1. re: hannaone

          Those flower cakes are so beautiful! (I never realized that azaleas were edible.). do you steam them or pan fry?

          Is there some significance to eating various flower varieties? are the flowers associated with traditional festivals?

          i think i recall eating nasturtiums in my grandparents' garden, just because i could. there wasn't any meaning to it, but they were attractive because they were so bright and tender. i don't recall a special flavor -- maybe a bit peppery? we never put them in food, though.

          1. re: alkapal

            Hwajeon are usually pan fried, although some similar rice cakes are steamed.
            They (Azaleas) are usually associated with the lunar date 3/3 (Mar 3rd Lunar) or (chrysanthemum) with the lunar date 9/9 (Sept 9 Lunar) as these are considered to be "lucky" or "positive" days, but may be made with any spring or fall edible bloom.

            1. re: hannaone

              and the color isn't ruined with the pan fry? is it cooked mostly on the underside, then briefly on top?

              1. re: alkapal

                Generally the rice cake is cooked on both sides first, then the flower is pressed onto the top side, flipped, and cooked for a few seconds.
                Maangchi has a recipe and video here -

            2. re: alkapal

              Our CSA gave us flowers for many weeks this past summer. We could choose from among many types, but I never took anything but the nasturtiums because they were the only ones you could eat. I mostly threw them into salads--they're great with butter lettuce--but also stirred them into a cake batter for color. They didn't contribute much of their peppery flavor there, but I'll bet if I'd had more, they would have done something.

              1. re: Isolda

                I have to confess I don't quite understand the affection for nasturtiums....I've tried them many times, in lots of different places, and to me, it's just....there.

                I don't gag or freak out...just gently and quietly lift them to the edge of my plate where they're out of my way.

          2. a wiki reference led me to chrysanthemum festivals, mentioned in a guide to traditional festivals (a book i want!). it clued me into some of the "meaning" associated with the flower:

            ingesting the chrysanthemums at a "double-nine" festival chases away disease and bad luck, in fresh air and clear skies of autumn. lovely!

            are the mums eaten in cakes?

            1. In the ancient village of Provins, just to the southeast of Paris by about 60 miles, roses are the specialty of the region. According to legend, Thibault de Champagne, who was born in the city, returned from the Crusades with what would become the first cultivated roses in Europe. The city rose garden is worth a is the well-preserved medieval town.

              The city now has a dozen places to buy rose syrup....rose lemonade (think a rose-scented 7-up)...rose jelly (really beautiful - a gorgeous pinky-peach jelly with diaphanous rose petal suspended in it)...and even rose ice cream.

              I can't eat much of it, but it's really lovely in small amounts.

              Violet candies are very common all over Europe.

              There's a candy made from a white flower all over Europe, too - the flower is the bloom of a tree, and it's heavenly. Sorry, I can't remember what it's called -- it's only in bloom for a few weeks, so it appears and disappears within weeks.

              Incidentally, herbes de Provence bought at a supermarket in France DOESN'T have lavender in it...the French don't usually eat lavender -- but it's commonplace for sachets, cleaning products....and in the garden.

              Some of the cuisine from Northern Africa also uses orange flower water -- which is absolutely gorgeous -- very subtle, lightly sweet.

              2 Replies
              1. re: sunshine842

                sunshine, thanks for the insights.

                why do the herbes de provence sold in the u.s. have lavender?

                personally, i don't like eating lavender. i love the lavender french-milled soap, though.

                1. re: alkapal

                  when I was in a Penzey's store this summer, they were shocked to find that there is no lavender in French Herbes de Provence (and a little irked, I think. oops.)

                  I have no idea if it's true or not, but I've been told that it was created for the tourists.

                  And I'm with you -- I wear lavender perfume and use lavender-scented household products, but I really don't like eating it.