Cooking with French Lavender

How to Cook with Culinary Lavender

French Lavender
French Lavender. SVGiles - Getty Images

Lavender is renowned as a culinary herb for its clean, distinctive perfume and matching floral, ever-so-slightly minty flavor. It's also one of the hardest seasonings to cook with, because of its potential to easily overpower dishes. Use this reference guide to discover flavor pairing secrets and learn the professional tricks to cooking with lavender.

Buying French Lavender

Make sure to buy culinary lavender buds specially marked for cooking. Lavender plants at the local nursery may look appealing, but they can be laden with pesticides and other undesirable chemicals. If given a choice, always go organic when choosing culinary flowers or grow your own.

Cooking with Lavender

The lightest dusting of lavender goes a long way in the kitchen. Use fresh or dried buds but beware,  the essence gets stronger and more concentrated as it dries. Use a very light touch or risk infusing the entire dish with bitterness or an oddly soapy flavor. When cooking with dried lavender, reduce the amount by 2/3 if the recipe calls for fresh buds. Example: 1/2 teaspoon dried = 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh.

Flavor Pairings with Lavender

Lavender's sweet, fragrant flavor complements a range of foods, both sweet and savory. Ingredients lavender goes well with: strawberries, blueberries, pears, lemon, orange, honey, sage, rosemary, oregano, thyme, black pepper, and chocolate.

Different Ways to Enjoy Lavender

Baked goods, herb mixes, salad dressings, beurre blanc, ice cream and sorbet, Provencal-style soups and stews, and dry rubs are all good uses for lavender buds.

Tricks for Using Lavender to Ensure it is Not Overpowering

For sweets: Lavender's floral notes play well off berries and citrus in baked goods. Instead of adding small amounts of the actual dried flowers to recipes, try using lavender-infused sugar for enhancing sweet dishes with just the slightest hint of floral goodness. Tone it down by infusing the dried flowers into cream for ganache, whipped cream, creme brulee, and crème anglaise, or into simple syrup for a variety of desserts, iced tea, and cocktails.

For savories: Lightly toast dried lavender in a dry skillet set over medium heat, constantly stirring, to deepen its complexity and remove the perfumed notes. Taking away the one quality that makes lavender so distinctive doesn't dull it's unique flavor at all, but rather gives diners the experience of wondering "what's that wonderful flavor; I can't put my finger on it" instead of biting into a mouthful of floral perfume.