The UK market for edible flowers and leaves is expanding on the back of chefs, bakers and mixologists becoming more creative in their usage and consumers emulating dining out experiences at home. So says Allan Miller, a former chef and co-founder of Nurtured in Norfolk, one of the UK’s largest grower-suppliers of edible flowers, micro cress, pea shoots, herbs, baby and micro vegetables, edible leaves and mint tips.
“The potential growth for the UK market is quite big as the use of edible flowers has become more popular,” Miller tells PBUK, adding that Nurtured in Norfolk supplies over 30 different edible flowers and edible leaves from its four-acre nursery.
Some retailers already stock a few lines and Miller believes there is further mainstream retail potential, although how big the market will become is unclear.
“I do believe that products used by chefs in restaurants today end up on supermarket shelves a year or so later,” he says.
“I think there is a fairly long-term future ahead. To a certain degree, businesses likes ourselves are carving out a marketplace that possibly didn’t exist previously.”
The market is becoming so competitive in fact, that Nurtured in Norfolk has new developments planned for next season but nothing Miller will vocalise at the moment.
Miller says edible flowers have been able to blossom outside their niche thanks to the “tremendous” change in the UK’s food industry over the last six to seven years.
“The UK is now driving the world from a culinary point of view, and people are going out for a dining experience where food is a talking point around the table,” he explains.
Alongside that, people are entertaining more at home too, where they seek to emulate what chefs are doing in restaurants.
“A lot of people are in awe of chefs,” Miller points out. “At some point, diners want to buy the same products at the supermarket to use in their own kitchen.”
Broadening the reach
Market demand for edible flowers is also expanding as a result of usage extending beyond high-end restaurants.
The product is largely used by chefs, who are driving the market, but in the last five years bakers, chocolatiers and even mixologists have jumped on the bandwagon.
“I’d say 90% of our current customer base is foodservice,” he explains.
“But there is a reasonable proportion of customers such as fine dining caterers, cake shops and chocolatiers who are buying direct from us online.”
These customers are using the likes of violas, calendula, orchids, tagetes, snap dragons and cornflowers to garnish and flavour sweet and savoury dishes, as well as cupcakes, chocolates and wedding cakes.
It’s not just food either. Edible flowers, such as fuchsias and orchids, plus mint tips like pineapple mint, are being used by cocktail bars to elevate drinks.
“The drinks industry has embraced edible flowers to use in ice cubes or to garnish the tops of cocktail glasses,” explains Miller.
To tap into additional market avenues Nurtured in Norfolk has also just launched a line of dried edible flowers.
“It came as a spin-off from having surplus product,” Miller admits. “But the dried product does lend itself well to food processors because it has a longer shelf-life.
“For instance, you can extend the shelf-life of edible flowers in a prepared dish to sell in a supermarket if you use the dried or crystallised format.”
So far, Nurtured in Norfolk has offered a fairly considerable range of dried edible flowers; including cornflowers, violas, roses and calendulas. “At the moment, we’re trialling different flowers to see which work best,” Miller reveals.
The popularity of edible flowers comes down to each industry segment looking for that extra special product to make their offer stand out visually and flavour-wise, according to Miller.
“People eat with their eyes first and foremost,” he explains. “The visual impact of edible flowers stimulates one of the senses. It makes a huge impact before you even start to eat.”
Using edible flowers provides health benefits too, which gives the business increased longevity.
“There are lots of health benefits being proven,” says Miller. “We know edible flowers contain high levels of antioxidants, Vitamin C and potassium.”
In time, Nurtured in Norfolk plans to do the research to prove these assumptions. But for now, the firm is focusing on backing up the health claims for its micro greens and herbs.
Flavour-wise, edible flowers also have much to add to a dish, which is not so widely appreciated.
Miller explains that desserts can benefit from edible flowers like apple blossom, edible leaves such as sorrel and pineapple sage, as well as mint tips.
“Apple blossom has always been a popular choice because it has a very sharp cooking apple flavour,” he says.
“Sorrel has a crisp citrus flavour, pineapple sage is very sweet and its flower contains a lot of nectar, while the flavour of mint tips makes them ideal for infusions for cakes, teas and drinks.”
Another edible flower that can add sweetness is the orchid, which Nurtured in Norfolk supplies year-round.
“The orchids that we do have a crisp, sweet flavour and can be used in various types of cuisines although traditionally they are paired with Oriental-style dishes,” Miller points out.
On the savoury side, garlic flowers have their own distinct flavour, much like fennel blossom and dill, as well as cucumber flowers, and nasturtiums are very peppery.
Violas, meanwhile, are more diverse because their flavour is very nondescript.
“They can be used in a large variety of dishes without impacting too much or fighting flavour combinations,” Miller says. “The petals provide a lovely colour but they don’t overpower a dish.”
The viola is Nurtured in Norfolk’s biggest seller by far thanks to its versatility of use, durability and year-round availability, even in the UK.
Violas, as well as cornflowers, also fit proportionally well with today’s portion sizes, and their petals are ideal for garnishing dishes.
Also extremely popular are cucumber flowers, which are available from January to October from the UK and South Africa.
“The flower is only the size of a 10p piece but a baby cucumber comes attached to the flower which creates a talking point among diners,” Miller notes.
Borage and sorrel flowers are currently on trend too.
Expanding the range
With chefs always innovating, other edible flowers will have a role to play in the future too.
“Demand for variety is more apparent than ever,” explains Miller.
“There are quite a few edible flowers that we don’t produce on a commercial scale that we’ll introduce in time because our clientele is always looking for the next thing.
“There are lots of edible products that have been overlooked, and we don’t eat a proportion of edible flowers because they’re not on trend but that doesn’t mean we can’t.”
Given the diversity of range and application, Miller says the key is developing the ability to pare dishes or drinks appropriately.
“These products are relatively new to the commercial market,” he says. “Chefs are still finding their feet in terms of how to use them for presentation and flavour pairing.”
To support the market, in the next couple of months Nurtured in Norfolk will launch a more interactive website.
“I want chefs to use our website as a porthole for ideas when it comes to putting together their menus,” Miller says.
“We need to ensure we aren’t presenting the same information every day. We plan to share recipes, ideas and people’s experiences of using products like edible flowers.”