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A Bouquet of FlavorsA Bouquet of Flavors

January 1, 2004

3 Min Read
A Bouquet of Flavors

As a centerpiece, flowers lend visual appeal to meals. But many cultures use flowers - fresh, dried, whole, or as essences and oils - to add color, aroma, texture and flavor to foods.

Fragrant jasmines, orange blossoms, nasturtiums, chamomiles or roses lend an exotic air to recipes, while a rainbow of violets, carnations, pansies or calendula adds a vivid hue. Frying, chopping or crystallizing the flowers and buds of many vegetables, spices and fruits give a variety of floral, sweet, bitter or savory accents. For example, lotus and banana flowers can give side dishes a slightly bitter and savory note, while ginger, saffron, dill and thyme flowers can lend a spicy, floral flavor to an entrée.

Hibiscus, lime, orange and plum blossoms add delicate aromas and colors to teas, liquors and chilled drinks. Europeans drink linden-flower tea to treat headaches. Indians eat spicy banana blossoms for their Viagra-like qualities, while people in the Middle East drink hyssop teas to relieve   common-cold symptoms.

North African and Middle Eastern cuisines often use flowers. In Turkey, rose water provides sweet perfumed notes to teas, drinks, candies and loukoum, sweet confections also called Turkish Delights. Called golab in Iran, it is frequently added to rice puddings and jams, while rose petals are added to honey, wine and savory dishes. In North Africa, rose petals or buds add visual appeal to many spice mixtures, such as ras-al-hanout, and desserts. In India, rose water perks up biryanis and curries, and flavors many desserts such as gulab jamun, rasgullah and kheer.

Orange blossoms, called mazahir in Arabia and zhaar in Morocco, give subtle flavor to many North African stews, salads, sorbets and desserts. Orange-blossom oil flavors puddings, drinks and pastries. Roselle, a hibiscus relative, also called karkadeh in Egypt, is made into a slightly acidic drink that is popular in the Maghreb and West Africa.

Flowers are also found in other Asian cuisines. In China, chrysanthemums and jasmine flavor teas and wines, and dried lily buds add texture to stir-fries, noodles and soups. Ginger bud is an essential ingredient in fragrant Malaysian laksas, and lotus buds grace pungent Vietnamese soups. Thais combine jasmine with coconut milk for aromatic cakes and desserts.

Europeans distill flowers for their oils and essences, or boil and candy them for jams and jellies. Violets scent chocolates, chilled soups and desserts. Elder flowers create aroma for cordials and syrups, while marigold adds a saffron-like hue to rice. Popular French seasonings, such as herbes de Provence, contain lavender, while Italians braise squash blossoms for risottos and pastas, or stuff them with cheese or seafood to batter and deep-fry as appetizers.

South of the border (and in the United States), Mexicans mix marigold extract with vegetable oil and add it to chicken feed, giving a golden color to chicken meat and eggs.   Squash or zucchini blossoms, stuffed with picadillo, are battered and fried; mixed with onions, cilantro and poblano peppers as fillings for quesadillas, tacos and enchiladas; or chopped for soups, sauces and salads.

Susheela Uhl is president of Horizons Consulting Inc., a Mamaroneck, NY-based food-consulting firm, which develops ethnic, fusion and “new” American products for the U.S. and global markets. Horizons provides market trends, culinary demonstrations and presentations on ethnic foods, spices and seasonings, and technical support. Uhl can be reached via e-mail at [email protected], or by visiting www.SusheelaConsulting.com.

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