Is there more to edible flowers than good looks? How do they fare on the taste scale? We asked Carol Hyland, the founder of Little Leaves, a small-scale edible-flower and microgreens grower, to take some of her top picks to DIFC for a flower tasting session with Halil Asar, the restaurant manager and sommelier at Intersect by Lexus, and Tomas Reger, a restaurant consultant and freelance chef. Here are the duo’s thoughts on the flavours and potential uses of 10 popular edible-flower species.
Marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia, Tagetes patula, Tagetes lucida)
Looks like: Orange-petalled flowers, ranging from yellow to deep orange, often variegated.
Taste test: The flowers taste like citrus zest, in some instances, but also Mexican tarragon or cinnamon.
Uses: Use dried flowers to make teas, and fresh petals for salads or garnishes.
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Looks like: Small, lilac-blue, star-shaped flowers.
Taste: The green part of the flower tastes like cucumber, while the sepal tastes and smells of oysters.
Uses: It can be mixed with salads and used as a garnish. Use the flower and the sepal picked from the stem. Can also be crystallised for cake and dessert decoration.
Sweet William (Dianthus plumarius)
Looks like: There are more than 500 species of Dianthus, in a wide variety of colours. They have small, spiked, jagged-edged petals, which are sometimes variegated.
Taste: Sweet William has a cucumber taste or a slightly metallic, sweet or herbal flavour.
Uses: Can be mixed with salads and used as a garnish. Petals can be used in desserts and on cupcakes, but be sure to cut away the petals from the base, because the green part is bitter.
Pansies (Viola tricolor)
Looks like: Pretty, multiform petals, in a wide range of colours, from white through to hot pinks and purples. Blue and yellow varieties have the strongest scent.
Taste: The flavour depends on the colour of the petals, but there are hints of aniseed and the slight scent of tiger balm.
Uses: Add to salads and use to decorate cakes and drinks. They also crystallise well.
Nasturtium (Nasturtium tropaeolum)
Looks like: Related to watercress, nasturtium has light orange and yellow flowers, and rounded, flat leaves with a central stem (like an umbrella).
Taste: This flower tastes like rocket and wasabi, with notes of rose perfume and cloves. It has spicy and fragrant notes, complemented by a sweetness from the nectar.
Uses: Use leaves and flowers for salads and garnishes. It’s a strong ingredient in its own right.
Ixora (Ixora coccinea)
Looks like: Small, star-like flowers in a range of colours, harvested from a single flowering stem.
Taste: A bitter taste that’s dry on the palate.
Uses: Ixora is lovely in drinks; try freezing in ice cubes.
Calendula or pot marigold (Calendula officinalis)
Looks like: Similar to regular marigold – orange multi-petalled flowers with a visible disc at their centre.
Taste: Peppery, tangy and bitter, with some references to saffron – it’s sometimes referred to as the poor man’s saffron.
Uses: Place in salads and garnish, but only use petals rather than the hard centre of the flower.
Courgette or zucchini flowers (Cucurbita pepo)
Looks like: Pale-yellow flowers are found on the end of growing courgettes. Not all flowers will fruit, so look for the flowers with no swelling at the base.
Taste: Slightly sweet with a courgette flavour.
Uses: Slice the length of vegetable with the flower attached, flash-fry and serve in salads.
Looks like: Lilac through to deep-purple flowers emanating from a single stem. While it’s drought- and heat-tolerant, lavender doesn’t like humidity, so consider the plant’s position when growing.
Taste: Flowers have a perfumed, floral taste.
Uses: Harvested flowers can be used to flavour cakes and ice cream. Flowers are edible, but avoid the green stalk. When crystallised, in its full form, lavender works well as a cake decoration.
Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)
Looks like: Deep red, with a protruding stamen.
Taste: Fresh and floral when brewed for teas.
Uses: Petals (remove stamens and green parts) can be brewed for tea. The colour is particularly striking.
Note: If you’re looking to incorporate more edible flowers into your cooking, consider the fact that there are many variables when it comes to taste. Petal colour, soil, growing conditions and even different seed batches will impact on flavour, so experiment to find what suits you. All of the above plants are annuals, with the exception of ixora, lavender and hibiscus (the growing season for these is from October to the end of April, depending on the weather).
Source: art & life