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Guide to Edible Flowers

A flower’s beautiful colors invite butterflies, bugs and bees to sip their nectar and exchange pollens from other flowers. Exchanging gifts of flowers between humans communicates love, acceptance and a wish of happiness between two people. And so it makes sense for us to occasionally include a blossom or two in our food, to bring those good wishes to the table. If you've been wanting to brighten up your dishes and your recipes with edible flowers, here's a quick and easy guide. 

In Latin American recipes, there are plenty of regional flowers that are part of culinary identity. Pacaya blossoms are traditionally included in a plate of fiambre or fried in an egg batter in Central America. In Mexico squash blossoms make wonderful fritters. And flor de pita or Spanish dagger blooms are a special treat during Easter season. Sautéed blooms from the aloe vera plant are also prized.

Of course, hibiscus flowers are ubiquitous in ruby red teas and many of the trendier Latin restaurants feature an appetizer of hibiscus blossoms served in a taco. After the dried blossoms are boiled for tea, the spent blooms are then deeply fried, lightly salted and served with hot corn tortillas. 

A few basic rules regarding using flowers in your food: Make sure that you remove the pistil from the flower before consuming, as it is pollen-filled and bitter. (Ironically, saffron which is used for making Spain's famous paella, is the pistil from a crocus flower.) Also, you shouldn't try to recycle your household bouquet into a side dish. Flowers for human consumption should be grown organically, and specifically for food purposes. Flowers from your own garden are terrific - just make sure the dogs and cats have not enjoyed them before you.

Most grocery stores have packaged edible flower assortments next to the fresh herbs, if you would like to give them a try. Start by using them as small colorful pops of color in your dishes, then move on to stepping petals for waters and teas (rose and hibiscus are a good place to start). When you're ready, experiment with adding them so sweet dishes like ice cream or cakes. A few blossoms added to a cake top or green salad sends a distinctive message of love to the person with whom you share the table.

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