Sometimes food prepared with lavender tastes like soap.
But that’s not the way it should be! Cooking with culinary lavender is a fun and delicious process, as culinary lavender brings out the best flavors in sweet and savory dishes – when it’s used correctly.
Lavender highlights the richness of fruits, compliments herbs and peppery dishes, adds intrigue and depth to meat and vegetable roasts, and enhances sweet desserts with unique floral and sweet notes.
What makes a lavender culinary? Why do some lavender foods taste like soap? And how do you cook with lavender the right way?
In this post, we’re digging into these primary questions about culinary lavender so that you can properly enjoy the wonderful benefits of cooking with culinary lavender.
What makes lavender “culinary”?
The term ‘culinary lavender’ refers to both cultivar (type) of lavender and the way it’s processed.
Some lavender cultivars are better than others when it comes to cooking.
Popular culinary lavender cultivars include:
- L. angustifolia ‘Folgate’
- L. angustifolia ‘Melissa’
- L. angustifolia ‘Croxton’s Wild’
- L. angustifolia ‘Wykoff’
- L. angustifolia ‘Miss Katherine’
- L. angustifolia ‘Royal Velvet’
- L. angustifolia ‘Buena Vista’
Notice anything about these cultivars? They’re all L. angustifolias – commonly known as True Lavenders.
Each cultivar has a distinct taste. ‘Melissa’ is slightly peppery. ‘Croxton’s Wild’ has an earthy, cinnamony taste. ‘Miss Katherine’ is sweet and floral. A great go-to culinary lavender cultivar is ‘Buena Vista’ and ‘Folgate’.
There are many, many types of culinary lavender cultivars, but most of them are types of True Lavender, vs. Lavandin, for example.
Lavandins (L. x. intermedia) is edible, as is all lavender, but its flavor can be resinous and pungent. A Lavandin type will make a dish taste bitter.
Now, about the process.
Culinary lavender is defined partly by cultivar and partly by process.
First, we begin by harvesting lavender at the optimal time for culinary use.
Processing lavender buds begins by drying bundles of lavender and de-budding the bundles (separating the dried buds from the stems). The buds then need to be “cleaned” – sifted through through screens to remove leaves and bits of stem.
While crafting lavender might also be sifted, culinary lavender is sifted multiple times so that all that remains is the lavender buds (and not leaves, stems or dried calyxes, which enclose the petals and form a protective layer around the lavender flower).
This extra step, cleaning the buds, is more work, but the end result is dried lavender buds that are free of stems and debris you wouldn’t want in your food.
Which part of the lavender plant do you eat?
When cooking with lavender, we eat the lavender flower bud.
While it’s safe to have some bits of stem and leaves in a tea blend, these other parts of the plant have a much more pungent and bitter taste, vs. the pleasant floral notes of the lavender flower. The stem and leaves are also tough, and you wouldn’t want to bite into them.
Why do some lavender foods taste like soap?
If a lavender dish tastes like soap, either the wrong cultivar of lavender was used, or too much lavender was used.
Lavender has a strong flavor, especially when it’s high-quality: organically grown, fresh, and properly processed and stored.
A little lavender goes a long way. You know you’ve used the perfect amount when you can just barely detect the floral notes. This is when the herb enhances other flavors in your food and adds a hint of flavor.
Ready to start cooking with lavender?
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Have you ever tried cooking with lavender? What’s something you learned that you’re excited to put to use in your kitchen?
Tell us in the comments below!