Lavender belongs to the mint family, along with other popular herbs like oregano, thyme, and basil. Like those herbs, it has been used in culinary preparations for centuries. It is a common ingredient in both sweet and savory preparations. The herb shows up at the forefront of the seasonings in herbes de Provence and is commonly used in pastries and cakes. When cooking with lavender, you will use a combination of the younger leaves and the flowers. Lavender may be used fresh, dried, or frozen. To get the best results from this herb, follow the dos and don’ts listed below.
Table of Contents
- Do choose the right lavender.
- Do follow tried and true recipes if you are unfamiliar with lavender.
- Do pair lavender with the right flavors.
- Do use lavender appropriately.
- Don’t use lavender in excess.
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Do choose the right lavender.
There are different varieties of lavender, some of which are used for purposes other than cooking. You do not want the type of lavender that provides the fragrance in soaps and lotions. The main lavender varieties are French, Spanish and English lavender. You will want to avoid using the French version in food. French and Spanish lavenders have strong pine notes, which are not appetizing. The English variety is the better culinary lavender, as it has a much sweeter fragrance that many consider similar to that of rosemary.
Do follow tried and true recipes if you are unfamiliar with lavender.
Lavender is not a herb that lends itself to improvisation by beginners. The flavor is somewhat unique among cooking herbs, so you will need to get some experience with it before you can expect your recipes to be successful.
Do pair lavender with the right flavors.
Because it brings a strong flavor, you will want to use lavender along with other equally strong flavors. Lavender works well with acidic notes, so it will complement tart and fruity ingredients like citrus juice and zest. Lemons are a very interesting pairing – in fact, lavender lemonade is a popular unique twist on the classic thirst quencher.
You can also pair it with creamy ingredients; it is an effective ingredient in both ice creams and custards, adding a delicious floral undertone to the taste. In savory dishes, try using it to flavor meats with strong flavors such as lamb or venison.
Do use lavender appropriately.
You can use the flowers in salads or you can grind them along with the leaves in a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder. Another option is to make an infusion. If you plan to use it in desserts or cocktails, an infusion is arguably the easiest and most enjoyable way to add lavender to dishes. For example, a simple syrup makes the flavor a great addition to mixed drinks and you can drizzle it over baked goods to flavor them.
Lavender sugar is another popular way to use the herb. You may lavender sugar by placing lavender flowers in a container of sugar and letting them sit for at least a week. The sugar will absorb the flavor. Lavender sugar is a great way to reduce the risk of using too much of the herb.
Don’t use lavender in excess.
Lavender is a potent herb, so it can dominate other flavors easily. Too much lavender will leave your dish tasting like soap or it may make it bitter. To get the best results from lavender, use it as a background flavor note for other herbs and spices in the dish. Keep in mind that dried lavender is more potent than fresh lavender. If you are using the fresh version in a recipe that requires the dried herb, increase the amount to compensate.