By Harold McGee
Flowers are plant organs that attract pollinating animals with a strong scent, bright colors, or both; so they can add both aromatic and visual appeal to our foods. But the most important edible flowers in the West are neither colorful nor flowery! Broccoli and cauliflower are immature or developmentally arrested flower structures, and artichokes are eaten before they have a chance to open. Aromatic flowers have played a more prominent role in the Middle East and Asia. In the Middle East, the distilled essence of indigenous roses, and later of bitter orange flowers from China, has long been used to embellish the flavors of many dishes, rosewater in baklava and “Turkish delight,” for example, and orange-flower water in Moroccan salads and stews and in Turkish coffee. Food historian Charles Perry has called these extracts “the vanilla of the Middle East.” They were commonly used in the West as well until vanilla displaced them in the middle of the 19th century.