Elderflowers come from the elder plant and have been used in cooking and as medicine for centuries. The flowers offer a floral flavor that has many different culinary applications. If you need to make a dessert or cocktail flavored with elderflower, try to find fresh elderflowers or grow your own. If these are not workable solutions for you, try one of the elderflower substitutes below.
Your best bet: Make Your own elderflower infusion
The most popular way to use elderflower is in the form of a cordial or syrup. Elderflower cordials are made by infusing the petals of the blossom in water or sugar syrup. The whole elderflower heads are covered with boiling water or sugar syrup and left overnight. If water is used, the infusion is strained and sugar is added.
An elderflower cordial can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six weeks or simply frozen and thawed as needed. It is a good idea to keep it on hand for when elderflower heads or petals are not available.
You can use the cordial to provide the elderflower flavor in a number of dishes including fruit pies, cakes, and beverages. Elderflower wine can also be placed into the category of infusions and can provide the desired flavor, thus making it an effective substitute in many applications.
A decent second choice: Elderberry
Elderberry comes from the same elder plant that produces elderflowers. These berries are edible and are just as versatile as the flowers. Like the elderflower, you can use elderberries to flavor syrups as well as jams and jellies.
The berries have an astringent flavor when raw, but sweeten when cooked to become an excellent substitute for the flowers.
It is important to note that while the elderflower will create a pale yellow infusion, the bluish berries will create a darker-colored product. In other words, elderberry works best as an elderflower alternative in fruit jams and similar applications where color is less of an issue.
In a pinch: Citrus liqueurs
Citrus is one of the most noticeable flavor notes that elderflower brings and that is what triple sec can provide. Triple sec is an orange-flavored liqueur made from orange peel and which is used in much the same way that elderflower cordial is used. You can use it as an alternative in many of the beverage applications for which elderflower would be used.
Grand Marnier is another orange-flavored liqueur. It consists of cognac and the essence of orange. It is an effective alternative to elderflower cordial as it provides some of the same flavor notes.
While the main way to use elderflowers is in the form of an infusion, it is not the only way. In some applications, the flowers themselves are consumed. For example, the heads can be battered and deep-fried. Acacia flowers bear some similarity to the elderflower and are edible as well. Most importantly, you can deep-fry them just like elderflower heads. Like elderflower heads, acacia flowers have a sweet floral flavor.
Elderflower’s two main flavor notes are that of citrus and vanilla. You can replace these by adding orange peel and vanilla to your preparation. Note that the flavor that elderflower brings is quite subtle, so these two flavorings must be used judiciously.
Rose petals can be infused into simple syrup just like elderflower heads and the resulting syrup can be used in many of the same applications.