Though it is commonly used in French cooking, lavender tends to intimidate many home cooks due to an ingrained association with soaps and lotions. However, when used correctly, lavender brings a lovely, subtle and aromatic quality to both sweet and savoury dishes. Here are some tips and recipes to inspire and guide your experimentation in cooking with this wonderful ingredient.
Buying Culinary Lavender
Not all lavender is ideal for cooking. Culinary lavender is a vibrant purple colour, not pale-hued and greyish. Its aroma is not overly perfumed, but rather something akin to mint with subtle spice tones. As a general rule, if it looks and smells like a bowl of potpourri, you might wish to avoid putting it in your casserole.
Culinary lavender is usually sold in dried form. If you are purchasing fresh lavender, make sure that it is a culinary variety. The most popular is lavender from the Angustifolia family, especially ‘Buena Vista’ and ‘Folgate’. Fresh lavender is less potent than dried, so if using fresh, use 2-3 times the amount of fresh lavender in place of dried.
Lavender works beautifully in both sweet and savoury cooking. It is related to mint and rosemary, so keep this in mind when thinking about flavour combinations. Consider which flavours classically pair with mint or rosemary – typically, rich meats and creamy desserts – you’ll find that lavender can be substituted easily and adds an unexpected, fragrant lift while its essential oils help to cut through richness in a dish.
It is true that there is a fine line between too much lavender and just enough. Like its cousin, mint, you can run the risk of overpowering the rest of the dish if you’re not careful. With this in mind, it’s best to practice restraint and treat lavender as a complementary flavour rather than the star of the show. As a general guide, add around one tablespoon of lavender to a medium-to-large roast, stew or baking project.
Here are some of our favourite recipes to get you started. Once you find your feet, get creative in the kitchen with this very versatile ingredient. You never know, it might just enter regular rotation on your spice shelf!
To boost savoury dishes, French Lavender Salt is a simple way to ease your way into using lavender – it's a great complement to rich meats and root vegetables, either to finish or to build flavour as you go. For a quick yet surprisingly sophisticated weeknight dinner, try our recipe for Chicken Schnitzel with French Lavender Salt Crumb. Sunday roasts can take on a French twist with our recipe for Roast Lamb with French Lavender Salt, paired with Honey Roasted Rainbow Carrots, also finished with French Lavender Salt.
If you’re more of a sweet tooth, a simple Lavender Shortbread is a good place to start. Our recipe uses Lavender Sugar, another unexpectedly versatile pantry staple.
Honey is another natural partner to lavender; try infusing Lavender Flower into a neutrally flavoured honey and use it to sweeten cheesecake, sorbet or even tea or cocktails. This infused honey also makes a fantastic addition to sauces, syrups and vinaigrettes.