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The use of flowers as food remains a highly unusual concept for many consumers around the world but this could well change in the coming years as growing pressure to source ingredients from natural and renewable raw materials is generating greater interest in the opportunities offered by floral ingredients.
Some flowers are already being eaten in their purest form, with a number of gourmet foods suppliers offering edible flowers for cooks, including products such as safflower, marigold, cornflower, hibiscus, rose, gerbera and carnation petals. Sugared or candied petals are also available to enhance premium desserts and confections, including the likes of rose, mimosa, violet and lavender, while there is also growing consumer awareness of salad opportunities for some flowers, with recipes for pansy-, rose- or nasturtium-based salads now more widely promoted.
While these products and ideas are still restricted primarily to upscale cuisine and gourmand consumers, the flavours industry is now placing more attention on floral tastes and this will help to widen opportunities for flower concepts in the food and drinks arena. To date, the impact of floral flavours has been most pronounced in the soft drinks market, perhaps as a spin-off from their past use in herbal teas. Hibiscus, in particular, has experienced something of a purple patch in the soft drinks market in recent years, featuring in a number of juice-based health drinks around the world.
The flurry of hibiscus-flavoured developments has also rejuvenated interest in rose flavours, which already have associations with the beverage market through past consumption of rose syrups. At the same time, greater diversification is occurring and a number of companies are now looking at other flower sources for new flavour opportunities. For example, in the US, Global Beverages has recently launched a Sweet Blossom Lavender soda, while Coca-Cola’s Römerquelle business in Austria has introduced Römerquelle Flowers mineral waters with floral flavours, including violet with orange blossom, hibiscus with dandelion and jasmine with elderflower varieties. Meanwhile, Australian bottled water brand Balance (also available in the US and Germany) uses blends of Australian flower essences to help consumers to relax, to maintain mental calmness and to alleviate the unwelcome symptoms caused by travelling.
While they can enhance the appearance and/or flavour of finished food and drinks, the opportunities for flowers certainly do not end there. Exploitation of the world’s natural resources is continuing to expand into new areas and plants that have traditionally been grown primarily for their decorative flowers are now being explored for new ingredient opportunities, if not from the flowers themselves then from their seeds. One such flower is the lupin, whose seeds are now being used widely for the production of flour and other ingredients. Lupin flour has been featured in bakery formulation for some time now but it is the protein ingredients from lupin seeds that could hold best future potential as demand for more plant-based proteins is increasing steadily. At the same time, the search for new resources will continue and flowers will certainly be on the menu for ingredient formulators.