Buzz: Hey, Marnie, I'm never sure whether to buy flowers or chocolates for Valentine's Day. What do you think?
Marnie: It's hard to go wrong with either, Buzz. Flowers are beautiful and romantic. Chocolate is delicious. Maybe split the difference with floral sweets? They're hard to find, but can be delicious, too.
Buzz: Wait, I can get roses with a sugar coating? Is that healthy?
Marnie: No, I mean candy and cookies that are flavored with actual flowers and taste the way they smell - things like candied violets, orange-blossom chocolates, or lavender macaroons.
Buzz: Whoa, that sounds like eating orange- or lavender-scented soap.
Marnie: Well, many flowers have a distinctive fragrance, and since most of what we perceive as flavors are really odors, those strong scents translate into intense flavor experiences. Not all flowers are edible, of course, but many are and have been used in cooking for centuries.
Buzz: Flowers in the frying pan? What country considers this?
Marnie: Violet and lavender are common candy flavors in France, and even savory delicacies like saffron and capers are made from parts of flowers. Hibiscus, jasmine, and chamomile flowers are used to flavor teas. Syrups made with rosewater and orange blossoms are common dessert sweeteners in Asia. And in my world of adult beverages, there are liqueurs made with flowers.
Buzz: I'm going to guess that's a French thing, too.
Marnie: You're right. The classic floral liqueurs are a French specialty, usually made by steeping flowers in brandy and sweetening with sugar. Historically, the most popular flavor was crème de violette, made with the purple violets that grow as alpine wildflowers. There has been a revival of interest in retro cocktails like the Aviation that rely on this distinctive liqueur.
But nowadays, people are more likely to encounter drinks containing St. Germain, a liqueur made with elderflowers. Its distinctive, subtle flavor - more like lychee than perfume - has quickly made it a staple behind the bar.
Buzz: Good idea. Instead of a dozen roses, I can buy one and present it with chocolate candy and a bottle of flower-scented liqueur. That puts me way ahead of the other guys.
Marnie Old is a local sommelier and wine author known for practical advice with real-world relevance. Her newest book, Wine: A Tasting Course, is an illustrated crashcourse for the wine curious. Marnie also advises clients in the beverage and restaurant trades. Check her out at MarnieOld.com or follow her on Twitter at @MarnieOld. Buzz's musings are interpreted by Gar Joseph.