Cauliflower and broccoli are two flowers you commonly eat, so expanding your tastes into those you regularly see as part of the centerpiece shouldn't be such a stretch. Not all flowers are edible, but the ubiquitous carnation that lends itself to just about every flower arrangement offers a unique flavor profile that can elevate the look and taste of salads or desserts.
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Carnations have a flavor best described as peppery and spicy. The miniature version of carnations, called dianthus, offers a spice reminiscent of clove and nutmeg. The use of carnations in culinary applications isn't new. The petals are one of the 130 ingredients in the mystical and cinnamon-tasting French liqueur known as Chartreuse that has been distilled by monks since the 17th or 18th century.
Toss carnation petals in with baby lettuce and finely chopped vegetables to brighten a salad. Add them to the base of an aspic before chilling. Steep them in wine or cordials to add a spicy flair. They may also be candied or added to desserts, such as pies or fruit cakes. To candy petals, brush them with whisked egg white and douse in superfine sugar. Allow to dry on waxed paper prior to using. These candied petals create an elegant, edible garnish for cakes or cupcakes. Chop the petals and mix with other herbs into soft butter to eat with meats or with vegetables. Steep the flowers in sugar water to create a classic syrup that may serve as the base for ice cream, a glaze for lamb or the foundation for creative cocktails. Similarly, create a pickle by layering carnation petals with brown sugar, cloves, coriander seeds, cinnamon, bay leaves and heated vinegar in a jar. Chopped cucumber, green onions and corn kernels may also be added. Allow to steep for at least 2 weeks and eat with hard cheese.
You should first shake out the carnations to remove any insects trapped inside. Remove the stamen, sepal and style from the flower, as these can make your dish bitter. You'll recognize these as the opaque white and green stalky parts that attach the petals to the stem. The pollen found in the stamen may taste exceptionally unpleasant when you chew. Place the petals in a strainer submerged in a bowl of cool water, drain them and lay them on a paper towel to dry. Sample a petal from each flower before adding to recipes as some may be bitter.
Before You Buy
Don't recycle a bouquet or boutonniere for your next culinary masterpiece. Carnations from florists and nurseries aren't approved for human consumption, unless labeled as such. They have been sprayed with toxic pesticides or herbicides. Purchase edible carnations in specialty grocery stores or grow your own to ensure they're safe.