Beauties for a Beauty
27 Jul 2013 09.12 am by K. Daniel
With the tradition of valentines that occur every year, perhaps some of you have received the very lovely (and rather stereotypical) gift of flowers, usually red roses. Some of you creative types or those with creative partners may have opted for some other plant, perhaps tulips, lilies, or daisies.
Don't get me wrong, flowers are lovely, pretty little things. It's a shame, and perhaps some may agree with me on this, that they have such short lives. If I was going to fork out $50 for a decoration which was going to die within the next week, I might as well get one of those new varieties, you know, the one with fabric leaves and plastic stems.
Before I get discounted as being cheap and insensitive, I'm going to say that I like flowers. Absolutely love them. The colours, the smells, their unique textures, and their flavours are wonderful.
Yes, flavour. Some flowers are edible, and I don't mean the ones made out of marzipan or sugar icings. Honest to goodness flowers can be eaten, and they make meals pretty darn interesting too. This of course is nothing new. Humans have been cultivating and eating flowers for generations. We add them into our foods to make it look prettier, and value the aromas they incorporate into certain dishes.
Notable examples can be found in Mediterranean cuisine, where ingredients such as orange blossom water and rose water, both essences derived from flowers, are often used, especially in desserts and sweets. In savoury dishes they are often eaten as the main component, case in point with the ever increasing popularity of zucchini flowers, deep fried or otherwise. If not, they are often added into salads for an interesting twist of flavour and aroma, or perhaps simply as a garnish to sweeten the look of a dish.
There is a wide range and variety of flowers which may be used as food substances, but caution is advisable. As with many plant varieties, some flowering plants are quite poisonous. This means that your pretty little meal may end up harming you by the end of the day.
Without going too graphic on symptoms, it's a safe bet that anything that results in cramping, nausea, rashes, itchy skin, and headaches are a no-no. Notable flowers that you should NOT be eating includes those from the Solanaceae family (potatoes, tomatoes), daffodils, buttercup, and irises, amongst others.
Also, it goes without saying that those who suffer from hay fever and other allergic reactions to plants and plant parts (such as pollen) may want to avoid eating these substances for obvious reasons. An eating experience is supposed to be pleasurable, not inducing anaphylactic shock.
Concerning the edibles, there is a large range of flowers with unique flavour properties that you can use. The general trend that I've noticed is that many of the edible flowers, especially those that come from herbs and plants that we already normally eat, have distinct but milder flavour notes. Examples of this includes the flowers from the Allium family (garlic, onions, shallots, and leeks), basil, mustard, sage, thyme, and rosemary.
With regards to overall quality, as there is a massive variety of plants to consider, the quality aspects of each individual flower is going to be variable, but in general, there are several general aspects that you may note. First and foremost is going to be appearance, does the flower droop or sag? Or is it upright and in full bloom? Colour wise is it bright and colourful, like a flower is supposed to be? Or is it dirt brown with black flecks? A combination of darkening or off colours and drooping, shrivelled petals should be a clear indicator that a blossom is not of best eating quality.
With respects to smells, some flowers have very mild odours, others have strong, distinct aromas. For the latter, changes or loss in smells will be one factor to consider when assessing the quality of the blossoms. Perhaps at that point, you might consider making your own potpourri instead.
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