12 Nov Edible flowers: what edible flowers are and how are they grown
When you say the word “flower”, you tend to associate it with the earth, the garden, the scent it emanates and, perhaps, even with the thrill of receiving a beautiful bouquet or giving it to a loved one. Yet, for some years now, the term “flower” has also been frequently used in the culinary lexicon, so much so that pronouncing this word stimulates not only the sense of smell but also the taste. In nature, in addition to the ornamental ones, there are in fact edible flowers: flowers that can be eaten and, therefore, used in the preparation of dishes of all kinds, also based on their properties and their flavor. But how are they grown and what use can they find in the kitchen? Below, everything you need to know about edible flowers.
Good according to nature, here are the edible flowers
Not all flowers are suitable for eating, nor can all of them be used in the kitchen. In order to be considered and used as such, edible flowers must, in fact, respond to essential characteristics. Firstly, the edible flowers must come from soils with an acidic pH, the acidity of which must therefore be between 5.5 and 6.5. It is also essential that their cultivation takes place absolutely in the absence of fertilizers, pesticides and other substances of chemical origin.
It is no coincidence, therefore, that the companies producing this type of flowers are all organic oriented and that they use, for the cultivation of edible flowers, exclusively natural products such as quassium and propolis or make use of antagonistic insects, in the presence of pests that threaten crops.
Not only the cultivation phase but also the subsequent ones, those of the collection and conservation of edible flowers, take place according to particular and exclusive methods. In fact, they are harvested without the use of machinery: picked one by one by delicate and skilled hands, well aware of the value of a cultivation obtained according to nature. Subsequently, during the same day in which the harvest takes place, the flowers are packaged in special biodegradable packages, labeled to indicate the traceability of the content. These will arrive in stores within 24/48 hours, to be purchased by consumers in their full freshness. This is because the flowers must be used within a defined period of time which, given the absence of preservatives, ranges from 8 to 10 days from harvest. And, for optimal conservation, they must be kept in the fridge at a standard temperature ranging from 4 to 6 ° C.
Although there is still no legislation that regulates, in a precise manner, the cultivation of edible flowers, in Italy as in the rest of Europe this type of crop is spreading and becoming qualitatively better and better. This in the face of an equally growing sensitivity towards the concept of flower, to be considered not just a garnish but as a real characterizing ingredient of a dish.
Edible flowers: from sweet to bitter, a bouquet to be savored
There are different types of edible flowers, some so-called minor, which arise spontaneously and are not subject to cultivation. These flowers can be picked up in nature by expert hands. The best known and most used ones, on the other hand, come from specialized companies which, as we have seen, follow a very specific process, relative to the phases of cultivation, harvesting and conservation of the product.
But edible flowers are distinguished not only by their color, but also by their scent and flavor. It is precisely to give color, taste and smell to the dishes, in fact, that they are used in the kitchen. Edible sweet-tasting edible flowers are used not only for sweet preparations, but also to balance dishes with a strong taste. Among these there are, for example, chamomile, fennel and jasmine often used as infusions, but also suitable for flavoring muffins and shortbread biscuits; geranium, whose petals are suitable for the preparation of parfaits, sorbets and liqueurs but also to accompany fresh cheeses; the rose which is widely used in desserts and jams but also in salads and risottos; violet and mint, excellent for ice creams, drinks and salads.
The edible flowers with a pungent and peppery aftertaste find, however, their optimal use in savory preparations. Among these, marigold and chrysanthemum with their pungent aftertaste will give an extra touch to soups, pasta dishes and minestrone and, with their intense colors and rich shades, they will also contribute to making the dishes more beautiful to be enjoyed with the eyes.
The edible flowers with a sour taste, then, will be a useful ingredient to create notes of contrast between the flavors. One for all, the begonia that has the flavor of lemon: ideal for use in fruit salads or in preparations based on fruit and its colored petals lively will give character to the decorations.
Finally, those who love strong flavors cannot fail to taste the edible flowers with a sour taste such as the dandelion, whose buds are exquisite in vinegar, the dandelion, from whose flowers a tasty sauce is obtained to season the first courses and the best known chicory: its petals, put in brine, will amaze even the most skeptical palates.
In short, each cultivar has its own characteristic notes on the olfactory and gustatory level and it is on the basis of these that the chefs choose to use them in their preparations. Guided by the desire to experiment and, why not, to amaze our guests, we can try it too, at home.
Edible flowers: a story of taste that starts from afar
The use of edible flowers in the kitchen represents a current and increasingly widespread trend. Yet the beneficial properties of this product grown according to nature, completely free of chemical agents, rich in minerals, antioxidants, proteins and vitamins but very low in fats, have always been known.
Historiographic documents and literary evidence testify, in fact, that edible flowers were chosen for the preparation of various types of dishes since ancient times. Even in pre-Christian times, the Romans made extensive use of it to flavor meat in general and, in particular, game. Also in the Middle Ages, flowers were considered as culinary products in all respects, used both in the families of the people and in the kitchens of the nobles. It seems that Charlemagne used to aromatize the wine produced with his grapes with carnation flowers while, centuries later, the English picked the most fragrant violets to candied them and enjoyed at tea time with a steaming cup of the national drink.