11 flowers to spice up tonight's dinner

Edible-Herbs_large 
Instead of a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper, consider a sprinkle of flowers to spice up that dish.


What’s surprising to people is how many flowers are edible. They add a lot of beauty, nutritional value and flavor to a dish.

My inspiration for cooking with flowers happened accidentally. I had planted chives and went out of town before harvesting them. When I came back, there was a veritable smorgasbord of chive blossoms. I tried them and they were delicious. That’s when I started letting other herbs and vegetable plants mature past the typical growing time and discovered the majority of them flower and they taste good. More often than not they share flavor components with the herb being grown.

Here are a few of the flowering herb and vegetable plants that I use in my cooking:

Chives

In the spring time, I love to use chive flowers. They’re bright purple and have a very pleasant, light onion flavor. Chives are high in both vitamins A and C.

Thyme

Thyme flowers are pink, purple or white. If you eat the flower next to the herb and disregard the texture, you’ll be hard pressed to tell the difference. Thyme is a good source of vitamins A and C.

Basil

The flowers produced by basil vary with the type. Thai basil will produce a purple flower. Just regular run of the mill basil will produce both green and purple flowers. Basil flower is another flower with flavor that is incredibly reminiscent of the herb it spouted from. Basil flowers are high in vitamins K and A, as well as calcium and magnesium.

Sage

Sage plants produce a beautiful light blue blossom that is high in potassium as well as vitamin A. It’s a rare example of the flower not tasting much like the plant. Sage had a woodsy, earthy flavor, while sage flowers taste incredibly sweet and bright. They are a good source of fiber and vitamin A and B vitamins.

Broccoli

It’s not an herb, but if you let broccoli grow to a certain point, the little buds at the tip where most of the flavor is contained will actually flower. They produce a yellow flower that tastes mildly of broccoli. It actually shares a lot of the vitamin nutrient components that broccoli does, such as vitamin C, potassium and B vitamins.

Zucchini

Zucchini blossoms have a green outer shell and, when they blossom, they’re orange and yellow. They don’t have a ton of squash flower but they do taste light and fresh, making it a great way to reinforce the squash flavor in a zucchini dish without overshadowing it. Zucchini blossoms are high in vitamins A, C, E and K. They are used a lot in Italian cuisine. 

Mustard

Yellow mustard flowers taste great. They offer a very spicy flavor, while containing a lot of the antioxidants that are common to mustard itself.

Onion

Most plants in the onion family will flower. Onion blossoms are produced by the actually onion plant and grow at the tip of the green stalk. They produce little buds that have a very intense onion flavor. Onion flowers are high in vitamin C and are a good source of fiber and folic acid.

Garlic

Garlic will produce flowers if you let them grow long enough. The flowers are quite common in the spring time. They are typically light blue, although I’ve seen them in yellow and green as well. The flowers shed the garlic aroma, which can be unpleasant. Garlic flowers contain protein, vitamin C and calcium.

Maple

Maple buds are the immature bud of a maple tree. They don’t really offer much flavor wise but they taste very lightly of maple syrup without the intense sugar flavor.

Borage

Borage blossoms are very interesting. It’s a plant that is similar to cucumber. They taste like fresh cucumber mixed with an iodine flavor usually associated with oysters. Borage blossoms are also very high in vitamin C, as well as potassium. 

How to cook with edible flowers

When I cook with edible flowers for hospital events, people are always surprised by how delicious the flowers are and how seasoning with them flavors a dish. The flowers themselves are often very delicate, so you don’t have to expose them to heat over a prolonged period of time. You can add them to a dish slightly before taking it off the heat or use them as a garnish or topping. For example, it would shock you how different it makes a baked potato look when you garnish it with chopped chives flowers instead of chives.

Some of the hardier flowers – broccoli flower, onion blossoms or zucchini blossoms – hold up well to cooking. You could toss them into a sauté or put them in a steamed vegetable dish. Zucchini blossoms are quite delicious deep fried.

Tips to grow edible flowers

I encourage people to grow their own herbs and vegetables. It’s kind of an added bonus to have fresh herb and vegetable flowers on hand to add beauty, nutritional value and flavor to a dish.

Talk to people at farmers’ markets. That’s how I got into gardening in the first place. People who grow things as a profession can really help you. 

I like to start with seeds when it comes to growing herbs. That way I can see the whole lifecycle. Herbs change a lot as they grow. A very young chive or basil plant is going to taste a lot sweeter and less mature and less intense than a mature chive or basil plant.

Plant flowering herb plants indoors. That way you can get use to watering them, you have control over the humidity and you don’t have to worry about wildlife getting into them. If you’re planting herbs outdoors, plant them in an area that gets sun early in the day and shade from taller plants or buildings later in the day. Planters work well and they’re moveable.

Lastly, experiment to become comfortable growing flowering herbs and vegetables. It took me quite a long time to reach a level where I was putting a plant in the ground and I knew what was coming out.

Jake Kuchan is a senior executive chef at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
 

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