Edible flowers are fun to play with, and using lavender in food opens up sweet and savory possibilities—but there is a fine line between just enough and so much you feel like you’re eating a closet-freshening sachet. Used correctly, lavender adds a lovely fragrance and floral taste to food, and might even help you relax (at least the smell can calm you).
Fans of “The Great British Bake Off” may recall judge Prue Leith’s declaration, “Lemon and lavender has got to be the new taste,” after biting into contestant Sophie Faldo’s layered entremets cake. Indeed, the honey custard, lemon curd, and white chocolate lavender mousse masterpiece cinched her the season eight win, perhaps partly because lavender, with its sweet hints of floral and citrus, is a baker’s ace in the hole. But it can also be used in savory dishes and drinks.
So why aren’t we all growing our own lavender out in the garden or on the kitchen window sill?
For starters, it can be somewhat intimidating to use lavender as a novice. It’s not like reaching for cinnamon or nutmeg in your spice cabinet. Lavender is a flower of the mint family, and it brings similar palate-refresher properties to a dish. However, it can also be just as potent as mint, and you run the risk of only being able to taste lavender in whatever you’re cooking if you don’t use it wisely; common complaints are that it tastes like soap or potpourri. To avoid this, your best bet is to rely on it as a secondary flavor, subtly enhancing a more neutral lemon, honey, or vanilla note, or bundle it with a few other strong herbs, like rosemary, basil, and thyme.
When figuring out which lavender to cook with, it’s important to choose the culinary lavender varieties, which are sweeter than ornamental ones. As a general rule, English lavender is more common in cooking than French lavender. Culinary lavender involves one of three forms: dried, fresh, or extract. (This goes without saying, but if you’re buying extract, steer clear of the essential oils aisle.)
Dried and fresh forms can also be separated into buds and leaves. Both lend the same flavor, but the buds are a bit more potent. As with most dried herbs, dried lavender is about twice as strong in flavor than fresh lavender, so adjust the amount you use accordingly.
Whichever one you go with, here are some ideas on how to use this ringer of an herb in your own kitchen:
On Meats and Vegetables
Though lavender’s natural sweetness makes it ideal for desserts, don’t be afraid use it at dinnertime. After all, herbes de Provence is a classic French blend of herbs that often (but not always) includes lavender.
If you’re starting with dried lavender alone, add a teaspoon of it to some garlic or rosemary, olive oil, salt, and pepper for an easy and standout dried rub.
Or combine a tablespoon of dried lavender buds with ¼ cup honey and ¼ cup of olive oil for a honey-lavender glaze you can use on a roast chicken and root vegetables.
A sprinkle of herbes de Provence can also enliven homemade bread (mix it straight into the dough, or sprinkle some on top of focaccia).
In Jams, Baked Goods, and Ice Cream
Lavender and honey just works, period; add some sort of cream and it’s heavenly. Try this Lavender and Wildflower Honey Crème Brûleé, or Double Lavender Honey Ice Cream.
Lavender cakes and cookies are also enchanting, and lavender cream cheese frosting can make a simple lemon pound cake perfect for high tea.
Or try adding a teaspoon of dried lavender to the pot halfway through making your next batch of berry jam.
To make a lavender simple syrup, bring 1 cup of granulated sugar, 1 cup of water, and 2 tablespoons of dried lavender to a boil. (You can add other herbs to the mix as well, like in this Lavender-Thyme Syrup.) Reduce heat and simmer for about 3 minutes until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has reached a syrup consistency.
Use the syrup to make a Champagne and Sorbet Float, a pitcher of Lavender Earl Grey Iced Tea, or in a cocktail that calls for simple syrup. Lavender mojito, anyone? Lavender lemonade is another fabulous option, spiked or not.