People like to decorate their houses with them, ladies like to weave them into their hair, children usually like to pluck them and cows like to graze on them — their uses are varied but seldom do flowers find their way on to our plates… or do they? More often than we know, these blooming beauties do sneak into our diet or at least parts of them do.
Take for example Kesar or saffron.
The most expensive spice in the world (a pound of saffron can cost as much as $1000!) is actually the stigma (female reproductive organ) of the saffron flower or Crocus sativus. It has been used since ancient times and has not gone down in popularity since.
The price of the spice varies according to the quality.
The reason for its high cost is its rarity. Approximately 1,50,000 flowers are needed for 1 kg of dried saffron.
That’s because each flower produces just three stigmas. Moreover, the plant flowers for just 35 days in autumn and picking, stripping, weighing and packing the filaments has to be done gently by hand. India and Iran are the leading manufacturers of this prized possession which grows in cooler climes.
The king of flowers does a lot for the taste buds too. Rose water has enhanced the flavour of many a gulab jamun and its candied petals given cakes a wow factor.
As a child I remember sampling some raw rose petals; I would suggest sticking to the candied variety. But then some chefs say rose petals add colour and taste to salad and certain sweet dishes too.
Another flower worth mentioning is Nasturtium. Its buds called capers are an important ingredient in Mediterranean cooking.
The buds are usually salted and pickled and best enjoyed in salads with fish. They are also an integral part of tartar sauce.
A surprising entry in the flower food section is the banana. Banana flowers are a delicacy in South and South-east Asian cuisines.
The banana flower is a large, dark purple-red blossom that grows from the end of a bunch of bananas. On the outside the flower appears dark and tough. But once you peel these bracts away, you can see the paler and tender inner leaves, which are used in a number of dishes.
A fresh, tender banana flower may be sliced and served raw, as in Thailand or served simmered in soup or fried with thin noodles.
In Kerala the flowers are cooked along with grated coconut. Other Asian and Indian cuisines add the sliced banana flower to meat stews, stir-fries, soups, and rice or noodle combinations.
While most flowers enhance the visual appeal of a dish, they also are a good source of vitamins A and C, and certain minerals like phosphorus and iron.
While you may be tempted to pluck one and taste for yourself; I would strongly suggest you don’t. Only certain flowers are edible and there are many poisonous varieties out there.
Flowers that can be eaten need to be free of chemicals like pesticides and inorganic fertilisers.
And please do not attempt to make a meal out of your mom’s lovely bouquet as these may too have such chemicals or dyes on them. And if you are allergic to pollen stay away from flower chomping. And never ever eat the flowers you see growing alongside a road or highway.