Edible flowers, long used to add a pop of color to menu items, are increasingly making their way not on top of, but in to a variety of food and beverages.
Among the trending flowers is hibiscus, beloved for its bright blossoms, which chefs are using in various forms — from dried and steeped to cooked down into syrup to infused in spirits — as a way to add a fresh floral flavor and aroma to desserts, entrées and cocktails.
"Floral flavors play really nicely with ice cream,” said Tyler Malek, co-founder and head ice cream maker of Salt & Straw in Portland, Ore.
Each May Malek crafts frozen flavors inspired by the season’s signature blooms. Among his recent creations is Cascara Shrub, an ice cream made with candied hibiscus. He’s also made sorbets with steeped hibiscus, as well as a candied hibiscus sorbet with a chocolate shell. Other floral ingredients he’s used have included elderberry, rose petal and anise, to name a few.
“The flavors bloom exponentially in cream, and the sweetness of added sugar balances any bitter notes you'd get from fresh flower petals,” Malek said.
Also a fan of leveraging the unique flavor of hibiscus in desserts is Sal Alvarez, executive chef of modern Izakaya and sushi restaurant Ozumo Santana Row in San Jose, Calif. For his hibiscus-shiso panna cotta, Alvarez steeps the vibrant flower in the panna cotta base, resulting in a bright pink dessert. He serves it with a raspberry sauce and a shiso leaf steeped in raspberry sauce.
“The delicate flavor of the hibiscus naturally complements fresh shiso leaf,” Alvarez said.
While flowers and dessert seem like a natural pairing, other chefs are finding floral notes a good match for fish.
At Poca Madre, a recently opened contemporary Mexican fine-dining restaurant in Washington, D.C., chef Victor Albisu is making a hamachi ceviche crusted with hibiscus salt and served with dried hibiscus garlic chips, thin slices of garlic fried in hibiscus oil that have the appearance of a crispy flower petal. He makes the hibiscus salt by grinding house-dried hibiscus leaves with Oaxacan sea salt.
"There are traditional Mexican ceviches that include hibiscus,” Albisu said. “The marriage of the hibiscus and the kaffir lime in our version adds an unexpected tang and twist. That alongside a corn garlic purée, raw serrano chips and the dried hibiscus garlic chips bring balance to the dish."
Zach Hirt, owner and executive chef at Nuevo Modern Mexican and Tequila Bar in Cleveland, Ohio, is using a commercially-made hibiscus purée to make a hibiscus rice cake that compliments his pan-seared sea bass with beet greens.
To make the pink rice cake, Hirt cooks sushi rice and mixes it with the hibiscus purée, shapes it into square cakes, refrigerates it overnight and then fries the cakes to a crisp in vegetable oil.
Hibiscus is also proliferating on cocktail menus. Below are a selection of the many, often deep pink-colored, concoctions being offered across the country.
The Parker, a top-floor lounge at the Fontaine in Kansas City, Mo., is serving up The Amelia, a floral-forward cocktail that combines Rieger gin, crème de violette, lemon juice and hibiscus-ginger-orange simple syrup.
At The Bonnie in Astoria, N.Y., the cocktail menu includes The Wayside, made with hibiscus-infused Sauza tequila, Vida mezcal, watermelon agua fresca, ancho chile, Campari, lime and a chile salt rim.
On the weekend brunch menu at Horsefeather in San Francisco is the Lowrider, a mix of hibiscus-infused mezcal, cucumber, agave and lemon, which could easily be enjoyed with the restaurant’s Waffle entree, which comes with stone fruit compote, hibiscus mascarpone and maple syrup.
At Tánsuŏ in Nashville, the All the Tea in Tn cocktail is a blend of Tennessee whiskey, earl grey tea and hibiscus liquor.
Meanwhile, the Restaurant at Wente Vineyards in Livermore, Calif., turns hibiscus flowers from the restaurant’s garden into a syrup for cocktails and mocktails, such as garden lemonades and mojitos.
Finally, the more than a dozen United States locations of Blue Sushi Sake Grill offer the Hibiscus Squeeze, lemonade with a splash of hibiscus purée. The tart and floral drink is also available with the addition of Tito’s vodka.