Cooking With Lavender
Passionate about lavender? Go beyond growing and crafting with this beautiful herb to cooking with lavender. This versatile herb brings a sweet floral flavor to desserts and beverages, and it also adds a just-right herbal note to savory dishes. Choosing lavender for cooking depends a little on the recipes you want to prepare and a lot on the natural flavors in different types of lavender.
Growing lavender for cooking doesn’t require any special treatment, except you must make sure you don’t apply pesticides or other chemicals to your plants. It’s unlikely you would, since one of the uses for lavender is as an insect repellent, but if your lavender is growing beside other perennials you apply systemic pesticides to, then cooking with lavender is off limits.
To get started in cooking with lavender, it helps to understand which lavender varieties work in the kitchen. English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is a standard culinary lavender that brings a sweetly spicy flavor to dishes. The varieties of English lavender also work well in the kitchen—‘Munstead’ and ‘Lavender Lady’ flowers have flavors similar to English lavender. ‘Hidcote’ English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’) offers blooms with a richer purple hue and a fruitier flavor.
If you fall in love with cooking with lavender, you should try to find and grow ‘Rosea’ English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Rosea’). Its pretty pink flowers have a sweeter, almost candy-like scent and taste. The white flowers of ‘White Ice’ (Lavandula angustifolia ‘White Ice’) bring a similar flavor to desserts and syrups.
Cooking with lavender is a centuries-old practice that dates to the Middle Ages. When cooking with lavender, you’ll use the flowers and young leaves in most preparations, although you may slip chopped older, tougher leaves into marinades. You can use blooms and leaves fresh, dried or fresh-frozen. For best flavor, pick flowers that have just opened. Remember that dried lavender flowers and leaves are twice as potent as fresh, so use half as much when substituting in recipes calling for fresh lavender.
A common preparation when cooking with lavender is to use the blooms to season butter and sugar, which is then used in desserts. To make lavender butter, whip roughly one-half cup of chopped flowers into 1 cup of softened butter. For lavender sugar, seal at least six entire flower heads in an airtight container with at least 5 cups of sugar. Seal for at least one week. Flavor grows stronger over time.
Use lavender butter and sugar in shortbread or sugar cookie recipes, or try it in tarts or pastry crust. Lavender makes a wonderful sorbet or ice cream flavor, or use the blooms to infuse honey with a delightful floral taste. Lavender beverages, including lemonade, hot chocolate, tea and wine spritzers, make refreshing additions to tea time, meals or quiet evenings.
You can also tackle cooking with lavender in savory dishes. Lavender flowers are a standard ingredient in Herbes de Provence, which can be used to season vegetables and meats. Lavender marinades and rubs give meat a wonderful herbal flavor. Whenever you have lavender stems on hand from making dried lavender wreaths or bunches, toss those stems on hot coals to infuse grilled entrees with a smoky herbal flavor.