Edible flower apple blossom is becoming one to watch both in restaurants and cocktail bars, with its pretty, leafy, Japanese-style stems and petals turning heads, and a sharp, tart apple taste exciting tastebuds. Produce Business UK looks into the emerging trend delighting the hospitality industry
Edible flowers have been in and out of vogue since Victorian times, where a patch of these pretty buds and petals were as common in the garden as carrots and spuds. Although not unheard of, the days of the kitchen garden in restaurants and hotels are long gone, and facilities dedicated to growing delicate leaves and flowers, as well as commercial foragers, are relied upon for such wonders. Edible flowers are sought after for all their different looks, textures and tastes and summer is the perfect time for flowers to grace our plates and drinks. Visually and culinary vibrant apple blossom fits the season to a tee.
A type of edible begonia flower, apple blossom’s name comes from its taste, rather than its botanical family or genus, and its more accurate name would be begonia blossoms. Grown mainly in commercial operations all over the world, production is based mainly in Israel, Holland and the UK. There are many different types of begonias and the product known as apple blossom is a version of one of its strains. Perennial and naturally prevalent through the summer months, begonias, in their many different forms, are widely eaten in Mexico, India, Japan, Indonesia, Myanmar, China, the Philippines and Brazil – it seems as though we are only just catching on in the UK.
Botanical name: Begonia tuberosa
Other names: Begonia blossoms
UK season: All year round in commercial facilities
Production: “For the British grower apple blossom is ideal as, when grown under the correct conditions, it can reliably flower all-year round,” says James Seymour, marketing and product development manager at Westlands, an edible flower and micro-herb grower. “Westlands started growing apple blossom more than four years ago. It’s a very versatile flower and slightly more robust than other very delicate edible flowers.”
Origin/history: There are more than 1,600 species of begonias and they are known for being one of the most common houseplants in the world. Native to South America, Central America, South Africa and Asia, begonias have been cultivated for thousands of years, starting in China, where they were used in herbal medicine and in herbal tea. In the US state of Florida, begonias have become naturalised over the last 20 years and now grow wild, where some categorise them as “invasive weeds” and others forage for dinner.
Appearance: Looking more like the iconic Japanese cherry blossom than apple’s blossom, apple blossom grows in delicate pale pink sprigs, and has off-shoots of flat, round double-petals with tiny buds at the middle-bottom, ranging from pale pink to a bright, hot pink. The stems have around four or five petal clusters coming off them, and make excellent cocktail stirrers or decorations.
Flavour: The petals and stem both have a tart, citrus-sour taste, with the stems having a stronger taste often likened to rhubarb. Many chefs use apple blossom stems in place of rhubarb. Some say there is a slight sweetness to them, as well.
How to use: Apple blossom is ready to use from being picked and is usually used raw, as it is too delicate to cook. The petals are used in salads and as a garnish on dishes, on top of cakes or in cocktails. It’s a natural addition to both sweet and savoury dishes as its tart taste and pretty, light features make it a happy contrast to both. Foodservice supplier Reynolds Catering Supplies suggests infusing whipped cream or ice cream with the petals to go over an apple tart or floating the blossoms in a fruit punch. Others recommend using them as ingredients in scallops, meat and seafood dishes, as their acidity offsets the richness.
“Gently pick the pretty, waxy rosy-pink coloured flowers off the stalk and use sparingly to add a juicy sharp acidic bite to savoury dishes, sweet desserts or cocktails,” advises Seymour. “Visually, it tends to complement other components on the plate. Chefs and their customers love the crisp texture and sharp green apple taste, which has the same compound found in sorrel and rhubarb.”
Health and nutrition: Apple blossom, probably unsurprisingly, contains vitamin C, and has been eaten in the past to prevent scurvy. Begonia sap is anti-bacterial and has been used on wounds and in remedies to fight coughs, consumption and fever, as well as treat toothaches and gum aliments when administered directly. Whereas the stems have been used to treat stomach upsets. It has also been reported that they are anti-cancerous.
But despite all the good stuff, begonias come with a word of warning and shouldn’t be eaten by anyone with gout, kidney stones, or rheumatism as the flowers and stems contain oxalic acid.
Popular dishes: In the western restaurant world, apple blossom is popular in amuse-bouches, desserts, and salads, but in China, Indonesia and Brazil, begonias are used to make a sauce for meat and fish, and for flavouring ingredients. In northern Mexico and China, they are a favourite wild snack for children and begonia leaves are used in tea as a remedy for colds.
Chef fans: Richard Corrigan, Clyde Serda, Felice Tocchini, Alice Waters, Clark Frasier
Next big thing: Tempura apple blossom petals