Discovering floral flavours and fragrances in places near and afar

Flowers aren’t just pretty. I remember the first time I ate the bloom of a garlic chives plant was while picking produce for a cooking class in South Australia. The flower was pungent and packed with flavour. That day, I munched on pretty purple snow pea flowers (they tasted leafy but sweet) and rocket flowers (they tasted exactly like rocket leaves).

Edible flowers have taken the culinary world by storm in recent years, playing their part in attractive plating. This summer, at the Michelin-starred 108 in Copenhagen, my lamb tartare came adorned with dainty cornflowers and their delicious whisky cocktail had a pink petal in it. But beware — it’s not all rosy. According to a story in The Guardian last year, Instagrammers took it too far. Examples include a “cake strewn with pretty narcissi — whose toxic crystals can cause incredibly painful swelling and sores”, “a smoothie topped with catharanthus, containing acutely toxic alkaloids used in chemotherapy”, and “a delicious dessert embellished with a pile of rhododendrons, the consumption of which would be life-threateningly toxic”.

Flowers, of course, are important not just as a repository of flavour profiles (or for their ’grammable quotient). Look closely, and they’re everywhere — attracting the birds and the bees with their sweet smells and vibrant colours. Heck, without the jasmine and roses from these specific fields in France, there’d be no Chanel No 5. At their most basic, flowers are precursors to plump fruits. As a city slicker, this is sometimes easy to forget. I hadn’t given thought to the origin of sweet red apples until a few months ago. But in the Himachali town of Tabo, apple orchards are aplenty. When I was there, the trees were in bloom with delicate white flowers.

My appreciation of flowers — on my plate as well as on trees — is newfound, and it has made me more mindful. For instance, in Mumbai, where I’ve always lived, the hot, humid summer makes everything sticky. Of late, I’ve been looking forward to the season. Clusters of sunshine-yellow copper pod flowers appear on treetops. Come May, orange gulmohar blooms — or “May flowers” as I grew up calling them — are a pleasant sight against blue skies. Later in the month, as they fall to carpet the ground, they add colour to the city’s sidewalks and streets. The fragrant frangipani also blooms, its recognisable scent a relief from city fumes. The little things can make life sweeter.

Fabiola Monteiro is a Senior Editor at Paper Planes. She writes about travel, food and culture, and in the past, has worked with prominent travel magazines. She's on Instagram at @fabiolamonteiro and on Twitter at @thefabmonteiro.