As my love of cake design has grown over the years, it evolved hand-in-hand with an ever-growing love of flowers. But when we’re talking about cake flowers, there are more considerations than aesthetics to keep in mind. If something is being placed on food (as opposed to being in a bouquet) it’s a whole lot more important to understand the edibility of the flowers, in addition to their history and growing conditions.
Our sacred food pact
I know, it sounds a bit hokey or intense. But I do take this ish pretty serious— as a food producer, there's an implied trust between me and those that I feed: I prioritize your health and safety through sanitary practices and transparency, and you in turn trust that the food I give you will not make you ill. It’s a small and unspoken pact we all have with our food suppliers, but it is necessary for our entire system to work, and is worth noting and respecting. In my case, this means that if I want to adorn my creations with fresh floral elements (spoiler: I do!), it is my responsibility to research and educate myself about flower varieties, and when appropriate, pass that information along to you.
Over the years, I’ve eaten a lot of flowers, some of which I probably shouldn’t have— there has certainly been a learning curve! Several years ago, I planted a whole bed of sweet peas only to learn they are one of the few pea varieties that you actually can't eat. But I’ve learned from each misstep, and along the way have compiled an ever-growing bank of information around eating flowers. Now, I know, most of the time you wouldn’t actually eat the floral arrangements on cakes, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it even with the most harmless of varieties— because who wants a mouthful of raw foliage with their dessert course? And realistically, most edible flowers don't actually taste all that great. But at the end of the day, you just never know! Most people trust that if a chef puts something on your plate, it won’t hurt you to eat it. It’s a fair assumption, and while most people won’t actually, many (especially children) are curious enough to give it a try. Heck, I’ve eaten TONS of these flowers over the years, just because I can, because I’m curious, or because I tell myself it’s for “professional education.” To be honest, I just conceptually like the romantic notion of eating flowers, but I also have a healthy respect for the fact that not all varieties should be (literally) on the table.
Over the next few months, as local flowers explode back onto the market and as my personal flower garden grows, I’ll be doing regular installments of “flower food” highlights, where I really dive into the details on my favorite edible blooms. While my list of edible flowers is staggeringly long and ever-growing, I’ve compiled some of my favorites here. Some I’m sure you’re aware of, some are new even to me, and some I’m sure I haven’t even learned of yet and will have to come back and add in later.
In my next post, I’ll go over a few varieties that are best left out of food designs. They’re kind of a bummer, because these are also some of my favorite flower varieties in arrangements. But I see them all-too-commonly used in food designs and if I'm being honest, it kind of makes my skin crawl. Check back for the next installment to learn what NOT to decorate your wedding cake with.
Photo credit: Thanks to Pozie by Natalie and Wild Rye Farm for lending their beautiful flowers for this post.
Further reading & resources: