Beautiful Ways to Use Edible Flowers in Your Cooking
Indian desserts are anything but brown. If you look at a mithai shop window, you'll see a line-up of sweets in every color of the rainbow. Beyond just an indulgent moment, mithai (or Indian sweets) are meant to be given out during celebrations, similar to flowers. Weddings, baby announcements, holidays like Diwali, new jobs and more are all celebrated with a touch of sweetness to remember these momentous occasions. When I started making Indian mithai, I wanted to make them even more celebratory and knew that flowers were the way to do it. Similar to mithai, flowers are essential in Indian celebrations. In Hindu marriages, they're thrown over the bride and groom by friends and family, they're delicately woven through women's hair for big events, and used as offerings at the temple. The idea of using flowers in Indian sweets just seemed so natural.
There are tons of edible flowers, but the most important part of using edible flowers is to make sure they are grown without pesticides. I often get asked if people can just buy a bouquet of roses or marigolds from their grocery store and use those, and the answer is NEVER! They are treated with chemicals to help them last longer that you definitely do not want to consume.
Also, keep in mind that some flowers are more than just looks, they have flavors too! Some flowers tend to be peppery or savory and work great in salads or as garnishes for your meals, while others have little to no flavors which work great with sweets. Just be sure to pick flowers that are safe to eat—this guide will get you started.
You can usually find edible flowers at your local natural foods store, like Whole Foods Market, in the herb or salad section. This is where I found a local farm, Jacobs Del Cabo, selling their edible flowers and eventually I started ordering directly from them. If they aren't available in your local grocery store, consider talking to your local farmers and seeing if they can bring you fresh vegetable or herb blossoms for you to buy, or check and see if they grow them for local restaurants. Also, there are many flower growers on Etsy who also sell edible fresh and dried flowers.
Your best bet is to grow your own flowers from seeds or buy plants from the store and grow them at home. In the Bay Area, I grow cornflowers, wild marigolds, alyssum, daisies, dahlias and more! Another added bonus is that a lot of these flowers are pollinator friendly and give bees and butterflies much needed food! In addition, you can save the seeds as the flowers dry out and keep replanting them.
Flowers can be used fresh or they can be dried. You can press them by sandwiching the flowers between wax paper and placing the packet between the pages of a large heavy book for several days. Another way to preserve your flowers is to pluck the petals off the flowers, spread them out on a baking tray, lay them out in the sun for 4 to 5 hours, and then place them in a dark, dry corner or your room for a day or two. The sun helps dry the petals out, but if they are in the sun for too long it can bleach the petals and you can lose the vibrancy of the colors, which is why I recommend finishing the drying process in a dark area of your home.
Fresh flowers should be stored in the refrigerator in a container lined with paper towels to help get rid of any moisture. Dried flowers can be kept in an airtight container in your pantry. And since adding fresh edible flowers shortens the shelf-life of a dish, be sure to refrigerate anything topped with them if you won't consume it right away.
Edible flowers can be used in a variety of ways. In the pista burfi bark featured in the video above, I like to sprinkle them on top of melted white chocolate when it's almost set so that the heat from the chocolate doesn't bruise or discolor them. Use flower cuttings to garnish drinks or to make floral ice cubes to spruce up your cocktails. You can press them between sheets of pasta, use them instead of sprinkles on cakes, press them onto sugar cookies, candy them with egg whites and sugar, toss them in a salad to make it look extra appetizing...the possibilities are truly endless.