April 18, 2012

5 Min Read
Petal Power

By R.J. Foster, Contributing Editor

It is often suggested that we stop and smell the flowers," but Ive never heard anyone suggest stopping to taste them. And yet, consumers throughout the ages have done exactly that. References to culinary use of flowers can be found in cook books" from as far back as 140 B.C. In addition to using their aromatic effects in perfumes, ancient Greeks and Romans used flowers to enhance the flavor of sweet and savory food applications.

Flash forward to today when botanicals are finding their way into commercial food products. Market research group Innova Market Insights, Duiven, The Netherlands, reported that global product launches of food and beverage products featuring floral ingredients increased 7% in the first 10 months of 2011 over the same period in 2010, and will likely rise to more than four times the level recorded five years previously. Tea, soft drinks and confectionery accounted for a combined 70% of total launch activity featuring floral flavorings in the first 10 months of 2011.

Growing consumer interest in floral flavorings is being driven by two distinctive consumer trends: health and wellness, and sensory," says Emil Shemer, director, food solutions, Sensient Flavors LLC, Indianapolis. Floral flavors used in hot- or iced-tea products, for example, appeal to health-and-wellness-focused consumers by offering a fresh and natural profile in a healthy application. On the other hand, floral flavors combined with fruit and spice notes used in premium chocolate confectionery offers a unique and nuanced taste profile that many adventure-seeking consumers are looking for."  

A bouquet of taste

Roses impart a range of flavoring effects based on variety. Those with deeply colored blooms tend to provide a stronger floral tone, with sweet and spicy notes, while recently developed lighter-colored varieties impart milder flavor. 

Rose water, an aqueous infusion of the aromatic elements of rose petals, can be found in Persian recipes dating from as far back as the 8th century. The recipes reveal rose waters culinary applications for seasoning savory products and flavoring sweets, including the still-popular confection marzipan. Modern uses for rose water include adding subtle accents to teas, vinegars, syrups, jams, desserts and confections, the most notable of which is Turkish Delight.

Named for the Persian word for gift of God," jasmine flowers have a history as rich as its scent. Commonly used to impart a delicately sweet and lightly grassy taste to tea, jasmine also is used to add subtle exotic taste to Thai cuisine. Jasmine can accent fruit preserves such as peach and citrus, and is finding growing application in alcoholic beverages.

Ancient Greeks and Romans used lavender in sweet and savory foods. Today, lavenders sweet floral flavor and lemon and citrus notes are finding their way into beverage systems and sweet applications, such as confections, sodas and ice creams. Its mild peppery note enhances the deep flavors of grilled meats. Lavenders ability to match strong flavors makes it a good candidate for pairing with acidic ingredients and other powerful flavors like garlic. Lavender is also suitable for dry-blending, and is often incorporated into the French spice and seasoning blend, Herbes de Provence. Lavender salt can also be used to accent a variety of meat, poultry and seafood products.

As you might expect from the name, orange blossoms bring strong, distinctive citrus notes that are pungent and sweet. Like rose, orange blossoms can be distilled into an aqueous form, orange water, and used for flavoring beverages like brandy and coffee, enhancing the savory flavors of grilled and stir-fried meat, poultry and seafood, and adding a unique citrus note to desserts, including cookies, cakes, sorbets and ice creams. Regional specialties using orange flower include Middle Eastern pastries and puddings made with orange flower-infused syrups, and Moroccan fruit salads tossed in orange blossom dressing.

Budding flavors

Elderflowers are cream-colored blossoms found on elderberry bushes. While the immature berries, leaves and stems of the shrub are considered mildly poisonous, the delicately scented elderflowers are becoming a popular choice for adding a flowery note to an array of beverage applications, including liqueurs, wines, sparkling waters and specialty cordials such as Sambuca. Flavoring syrups are also available for adding elderflower notes to beverages.

Known by many namesincluding jamaica, roselle, or bissaphibiscus flowers have long been known for their inclusion in the traditional Caribbean beverage called sorrel (a word that is also associated with the flower). Long known throughout South America and the Caribbean, hibiscus is being used more and more to lend a tart berry taste to beverages, vegetables and savory applications.

Grown for medical and culinary purposes since the 15th century B.C., chrysanthemums are a traditional favorite in tea. Extracted from yellow chrysanthemum flowers, this unique flavoring lends a mild floral note with hints of herbal, woody and savory tones that add depth and character to complex flavor systems such as that of the French liqueur, Chartreuse.

Floral arrangements

While floral flavors are suitable for a wide range of commercial applications," notes Shemer, their usage is definitely more prominent in beverages, such as tea, flavored waters, soft drinks, liqueurs and craft beer; premium chocolate confections; upscale desserts and sorbets."

Shemer suggests product developers can utilize the distinctive notes floral flavors deliver to create tastes ranging from subtle to stand-out.Vanilla paired with lavender in a shortbread cookie creates a rich, buttery vanilla profile with a hint of floral," Shemer says. On the other hand, rose paired with pomegranate in a sparkling soda creates a unique and adventurous floral profile." Floral flavors provide many opportunities for creating either nuanced floral profiles or adventurous floral profiles.

R.J. Foster is a wordsmith with a B.S. in food science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and over 15 years of experience in the food industry. He can be reached through his website, wordsmithingbyfoster.com.

Subscribe and receive the latest insights on the health and nutrition industry.
Join 37,000+ members. Yes, it's completely free.

You May Also Like