Has your food truck joined the gourmet trend of adding Lavender to your menu items? It’s hard to imagine that an herb once used for embalming fluid, to repel insects and protect against evil spirits has become all the rage in the food world. Lavender, one of the most popular herbs in the world, is most notably known for lotions, potions and gels because of its aromatic compounds, healing and soothing effects and antiseptic properties but these days it has become quite trendy in home kitchens and upscale restaurants among adventurous cooks, chefs and gourmands.
The same Lavender fragrance used in shampoos, perfumes and candles is also spicing up appetizers, entrees and desserts. From seasonings to syrups, chicken to chocolate and beverages to bread, people around the globe are cooking with and eating up Lavender.
This ancient herb has been used for centuries, and revered by French chefs for decades, but in the past few years it has enjoyed resurgence in popularity, especially in the U.S., as a hot new flavor trend, and while eating Lavender may sound like a new craze, in actuality it is a very old practice. Medicinally it was infused into teas to help alleviate such conditions as stress, congestion, headaches and insomnia. Culinarily, Lavender lends itself to a variety of uses.
It pairs well with other popular herbs like Rosemary, Fennel, Mint, Oregano, Sage, Marjoram and Thyme; it looks beautiful as a garnish or a brilliant color accent in salads and it is wonderfully aromatic. Lavender enhances the flavors in soups, sauces and sorbets, relishes, honey, jellies and jams and alcoholic beverages like vodka, gin, champagne and wine. Initially culinary Lavender was most often used in connection with sweets such as chocolates, desserts and baked goods but when combined in marinades, glazes and spice rubs, Lavender will add a new dimension to any dish and bring out the savory flavor of meats.
Due to the potency, unusual flavor and distinct fragrance, Lavender is often described as an acquired taste. Lavenders that have been dried are far more potent than the fresh thus decreasing the amount needed for cooking, approximately one third less, and the darker the color, the stronger the flavor. The secret to cooking with Lavender is to start out with small quantities and try using different kinds of Lavender until the palette develops an appreciation for it, too much all at once will overpower the senses and result in a bitter, soapy or perfume-like taste.
Lavender is grown around the world and there are hundreds of varieties to choose from varying in fragrance, shape, size and color. Provence (a region of southeastern France on the Mediterranean) is the world’s largest producer and part of the famous French seasoning, Herbes de Provence, a mixture of dried herbs. It is most commonly used in the kitchen as well as the English Lavenders; both are highly regarded for their light fragrance and sweet mellow flavor.
For culinary purposes, although the leaves are edible, the best part of the plant is the buds and the flowers; they contain the “essential oil” or essence of the Lavender. Always purchase organic or culinary Lavender from health food stores, gourmet shops, lavender farms or from online merchants who specialize in selling Lavender for consumption. Never use Lavender from nurseries, flower or garden shops; it may contain toxic pesticides, unhealthy additives or artificial fertilizers that are harmful to humans if ingested.
Whether crushed, sprinkled, ground or infused, this flavor-intense herb will indulge your senses, tantalize your taste buds and please your palette. The next time you are looking to expand your culinary horizons, try adding Lavender to one of your favorite dishes for a surprisingly different and delicious flavor.
Do you already use this herb in your menu? If so, please feel free to share how you use Lavender.