Cassie Winslow, an edible flower expert and cookbook author, explains how to use fresh flowers to add flavor (and color) to baked goods, cocktails, salads, and more.
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Edible flowers with food
Credit: Courtesy of Chronicle Books / Naomi McColloch

When you think of flowers in the kitchen, what comes to mind? If you're like most people, it probably involves a vase full of fresh blooms in all their botanical glory. However, if you're looking for ways to take your meals to the next level, it might be time to look beyond décor and reach for edible flowers.

From tangy hibiscus to earthy chamomile, edible flowers can add a gourmet touch to your food. Specifically, they'll add a dynamic combination of color and flavor, so long as you have the right approach. To learn more about these culinary delights, we spoke to Cassie Winslow, edible flower expert and author of Floral Provisions: 45 Sweet and Savory Recipes and Floral Libations: 41 Fragrant Drinks and Ingredients.

Types of Edible Flowers

If you're new to culinary flowers, you'll be glad to know that there are many varieties to choose from. But like other edible plants, they vary in terms of flavor and ideal pairings. With that said, it might help to choose edible flowers based on the flavor profile you'd like to achieve.

For a zesty kick, opt for edible flowers with sharper, more peppery notes. This includes chive flowers, which offer a "welcomed piquant addition to savory foods such as omelets and soups," says Winslow. She also enjoys using hibiscus flowers—which are tangy and tart—in savory dishes or homemade BBQ sauce. Craving some color? Try adding spicy nasturtium petals, which are available in a wide range of shades, to your spring or summer salads. "Flowers from herbs—such as cilantro, sage, [and] rosemary—have a unique zing compared to the foliage and are fun to experiment with," notes Winslow.

Sweeter flowers are especially lovely in baked goods and cocktails, though they have a place in savory preparations too. According to Winslow, one such example is lavender, which has a strong sweet flavor that works well in dishes like homemade crepes, salad dressings, and even French fries. Another option is rose, which tastes quite sweet. "Fresh rose petals make a beautiful garnish," notes Winslow, though she's partial to dried roses when baking and making cocktails. Chamomile is another favorite of Winslow's, thanks to its sweet, earthy, and beautiful honey flavor. "I love using it in crème brûlée or in a syrup to drizzle on French toast and pancakes", she shares. Finally, fresh jasmine is another candidate, as it tastes delicious in sweet confections, says Winslow.

How to Use Edible Flowers in Food

The easiest way to use edible flowers is to add them as a garnish, just like you would fresh herbs. Try topping off your next soup, salad, or avocado toast with a few petals of culinary blooms. When it's time to eat dessert, edible flowers can instantly elevate sweets like chocolate mousse, cupcakes, and doughnuts. Even the most basic cakes, like our One-Bowl Chocolate Cake, can be transformed into a multicolored masterpiece with a sprinkling of edible flowers.

In the drink department, the possibilities are endless. "One of the easiest [methods] is to make a simple syrup," says Winslow. Simply add your favorite edible flower to your go-to simple syrup recipe. Alternatively, "you can use tea bags to infuse the syrup," she suggests. (For example, you can use chamomile tea bags to make chamomile syrup.) The floral syrup can then be mixed into margaritas, iced coffee, or even a hot cocoa. Another no-fuss option is adding edible flower petals to ice cubes, then adding the cubes to beverages like lemonade or seltzer. Winslow also enjoys adorning cocktail glasses "with rose salt or jasmine sugar to add a little something fancy to your everyday sipper."

How to Use Edible Flowers Safely

Before adding petals to your plate, make sure they're safe to eat. Double (and triple) check that the flower is an edible variety. Even then, never eat flowers found in the wild, even if you know it's an edible type. Such blooms might be sprayed with chemicals or other substances, so it's best to grow edible flowers yourself whenever possible. But if you don't have a green thumb, you're in luck: "There are many grocery stores that now carry organic edible flowers in the produce section, [like] Whole Foods, Sprouts, and other natural food stores," explains Winslow. You can also check your local farmers' market. For dried organic edible flowers, consider purchasing from online markets or tea and spice shops. Dried flowers have the added bonus of having a longer shelf-life and more potent taste, says Winslow.

As with fresh herbs, edible flowers are best when used as quickly as possible (i.e., soon after picking). However, according to Winslow, fresh blooms can last a day or two—or sometimes longer—if you wipe fresh blooms clean (versus rinsing them) and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

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