The latest culinary fad that’s sweeping the nation is the use of edible flowers in food. These are becoming popular in salads, as cake decorations, desserts and even in cocktails.
Many food safety experts and botanists are concerned that this new craze could cause a spate of poisonings. With major supermarkets charging up to £3 a punnet, many chefs might pick their own from gardens without being able to identify which flowers are safe to eat and which ones are not.
For example, a common plant which can, when consumed, be extremely dangerous to humans is the foxglove which contains a naturally occurring poison (digitalis). The entire plant is toxic and causes anything from nausea and vomiting to death.
Foxglove flower (digitalis purpurea)
Even if flowers are edible, they can still cause illnesses if not washed thoroughly, traces of soil or other contaminants still on a flower could contain pathogens (organisms that cause disease) such as E.coli, Clostridiums Perfingens and Clostridium Botulinum and which can, when ingested, make the consumer very ill. It is extremely important that flowers are thoroughly cleansed so illnesses aren’t introduced into the human body and businesses must remember that they have legal obligations to ensure the food served to customers is safe to eat.
The Food Standards Agency guidance advises that all fruit and vegetables to be eaten raw should be thoroughly washed and scrubbed as this is the most effective way to remove pathogens, but this will be almost impossible to do and still have something resembling petals afterwards. It has been suggested that quickly blanching in boiling water will reduce the bacterial load significantly and this may be achievable in practice with some more robust flowers, such as chives and lavender. Failing this, if flowers are an integral part of a dish and need to be used, a risk assessment regarding the careful use of suitably dosed liquid food grade fruit and vegetable sanitiser, may achieve a suitable reduction in surface bacterium, whilst still retaining the attractive qualities of the flowers.
We don’t want to put you off using edible flowers in food altogether though. If researched correctly, chosen wisely and cleansed thoroughly before use, there are some health benefits associated with certain flowers. For example, the borage flower has been scientifically researched and tests have proven that a chemical in the flower stimulates the adrenal glands. This encourages our bodies to produce more adrenaline, which helps us when feeling tired, to perk us up, and helps us feel less stressed – so maybe a few clean borage flowers will make a good snack for chefs at the end of a busy service!
Borage flower (star flower)