Lovely flower? Let’s eat it

By TheHindu on 25 Nov 2016

Flower power is back in vogue, this time with food. Chefs around the world are increasingly relying on edible buds, flowers and flowering herbs for that fresh dimension

Yellow, purple, pink, white; my salad bowl looks like a bowl of assorted flowers on the surface. My next thought: they are raw, do I eat them or simply set them aside on the side plate? So I called out to Chef Francis who had made my salad and asked, 'what do I do with these flowers? “Eat them,” he replied and dashed back into the kitchen.

Until then, I hadn’t known pansies can be eaten and pokey dry button flowers are chewable too. Since I was on a flower eating spree at ITC Kakatiya the other day, I followed up the salad with a grilled pink salmon on a bed of assorted petals. What did it taste like? Brilliant!

That’s when I was convinced that flowers that women adorn their hair with, can also make their way into the kitchen and on to the dinner plate, for special occasions. Ok, so the tradition of eating flowers isn’t new. We Indians have had bajjis or fritters made from banana flower and pumpkin flower for ages. We’ve also savoured traditional Chinese teas that comprised many dried flowers. But since when have we started eating raw flowers that are mostly seen in exotic bouquets? I remember seeing a variety of imported colourful flowers in flower beds of the northeast during the winters, the seeds procured either from shops that sold imported seeds or given out with imported gardening magazines. Then, nobody told us they are edible.

The origin of cooking flowers can be traced back to Roman, Egyptian and Asian cultureswith some traditional recipes passed down generations. However, the modern usage of flowers in cuisines has its roots in England, as chef and food writer Terri Milligan documents. She writes about flower-infused teas and lavender and pansy-flavoured jams that were commonly served at Victorian dining tables. Flowers add a touch of elegance, colour and taste to a recipe, turning an ordinary dish into something extraordinary.

That’s why when you are handed a cocktail with fresh Jasmine flowers at Taj Falaknuma Palace, even before you take a sip, your eyebrows shoot up — ‘Jasmine as well?’

So you think: Salads and drinks with flowers seem fine, but how do flowers make it to the main course? Some chefs say they use exotic flowers for garnishing, on request. Including them not only improves the presentation but also increases the price per plate.

Of course, it is a sheer waste when these flowers eventually land in the bins, as does the slice of pineapple in our pineapple juice. In such a situation apply the logic of ‘when it is presented with the drink/food it is undoubtedly safe to be eaten’ and it certainly isn’t bad form or poor dining etiquette to eat your garnishing. At Taj Krishna, flowers are kept with the bartenders, so that the lovely ladies can enjoy a flowery drink, if they wish.

Tasting and trying dishes with peonies, pansies, orchids, button flowers, nasturtium, honey suckle, violas and snap dragons have made me aware of how these flowers taste. The pansy for instance is almost tasteless but with a mild hint of fennel and leaves a tinge of bitterness on the fringes just as you are about to swallow it. However, it clears the palate. The peonies are bit crispy, a little like mini lettuce leaves. Taste? Feellike fenugreek sprouts.

So the trend of eating flowers is sure to make a huge comeback and touch Indian shores this year. But a word of caution — the flowers meant for eating are specially cultivated and treated to keep them free of e-coli and other bacteria. They aren’t allowed to come in contact with soil. So, the next time you see a flower bed; don’t go on an eating spree like the goats.

Salads and drinks with flowers seem fine, but how do flowers make it to the main course?Some chefs say they use exotic flowers for garnishing, on request. Including them not only improves the presentation but also increases the price per plate.

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