Build, East Bay Spice Company, Italian Colors, and Others Add Flowers to Food and Drink

Daisies, fuchsias, mums and their kin are delicious, nutritious additions to dishes and cocktails.


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Chef Alan Carlson of Italian Colors uses his own flowers in his restaurant's food.

ALESSANDRA MELLO

This cocktail contains pisco and eggwhite, but it’s not a pisco sour. Because we’re in a pizzeria—downtown Berkeley’s Build Pizzeria Roma (www.BuildPizzeria.squarespace.com)—it’s called a Nostro Sour. With a sculptor’s precision, mixologist Mike Curry adds the finishing touches: petals from a purple chrysanthemum, arranged in a starburst pattern atop the sour’s snowy froth.

“Go ahead,” Curry urges. “Bite into them.”

They’re flirtily fleshy, earthily bitter. Build’s weekly fresh-flower delivery from West Oakland’s Bittersweet Floral Design always includes edible blooms such as marigolds, roses, calendulas—and orchids, which flam-boyantly crown such crowdstoppers as the Hop Blossom, which comprises Cocchi Americano, Union Jack IPA, lemon juice, and housemade hibiscus-tea syrup.

“Their flavor and texture add contrast to sweet drinks,” Curry explains. “I encourage people to eat them; these aren’t just garnishes.”

If we devour fruits, vegetables, seeds, and roots without a second thought, why do we consume flowers so sparingly?

As edible installations, handcrafted for almost-immediate consumption, cocktails lend themselves to floral flavors and fragrances—because flowers, too, are fleeting glories. That’s why distillers have been capturing their essences for centuries. At Berkeley’s East Bay Spice Company (www.EastBaySpiceCompany.com), mixologist Adam Stemmler created Flora & the Bees from lavender bitters, lemon juice, ginger juice, wildflower honey, Petal & Thorn aperitif, and Nolet’s Turkish rose-scented gin.

“The soft rose petals of Nolet’s marry well with the bittersweet base of Petal & Thorn. Both products feature flowers in a unique and masterful way, but from very different perspectives,” Stemmler explains. “The spice of the ginger-honey bridges the floral components of the cocktail together while the fresh citrus and lavender bitters add brightness, while still keeping it simple and linear.”

Co-owner/bar manager Jenny Schwarz created the Love and Virtue cocktail of gin, Amaro Montenegro, crème de violette, lemon and lime juice, simple syrup, eggwhite, and fresh rose petals at Oakland’s Hopscotch (www.HopscotchOakland.com), .

But putting flowers to the fork, in food, gives us new ways of engaging with them. At A16 Rockridge (www.A16Rockridge.com), pastry chef Hannah Buoye candies the rose petals and brews the hibiscus sauce that go into her honey-rose panna cotta. And when owner-chef Alan Carlson was brainstorming a new salad to serve at Italian Colors (www.ItalianColorsRestaurant.com) in Montclair, he realized what would best augment its roasted beets, turnip purée and whipped-vinegar “Tuscan cloud”: fresh purple-and-yellow pansies from his own backyard.

“I love the way they smell and look,” Carlson explains. “They’ve got a nice earthiness, a springy flavor: They taste a little like sunshine. Plus they offer a beautiful eye appeal and a high amount of vitamin C.”

Back at Build, Curry examines a borage blossom. “The first time I ever got to make a cocktail with flowers, it was so beautiful and so much fun that I couldn’t believe more people aren’t doing this. But I’m glad they’re not, because it means I’m doing something special.”

DIY With Edibles

Adding flowers to your daily diet is easier than you think. Dozens of familiar garden flowers and wildflowers are edible. Talk to the folks at your favorite nursery, but the list includes honeysuckle, chrysanthemums, hibiscus, fennel blossoms, day lilies, nasturtiums, chive blossoms, borage, fuchsias, arugula blossoms, dandelions, citrus blossoms, lavender, pansies, violas, carnations, marigolds, bachelors’ buttons, gladiolus, hollyhocks, daisies, jasmine, impatiens, nasturtiums, lilacs, roses, squash blossoms, sunflowers and violets. Plant some in your garden, as Italian Colors owner-chef Alan Carlson did, and you’ve got free-and-easy access to nutritious, delicious culinary accents. Or have blooms delivered via mail order from Fresh Origins, a leading producer of hand-harvested edible flowers.

 

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