Flavor Investigator: Lavender

If there was ever a flavour that I associated with elegance it would be lavender.  This might be because of its association with the South of France but I like to think the reason is its pale purple colour- a rarity in food and nature.  Lavenders flavour is characteristically known for being floral, herbal and sweet.

Lavender is not actually a single type of plants but a genus of flowering plants (Lavandula L.) which are found in the mint family, Lamiaceae. It is believed that Lavender originated back 2500 years ago in the Mediterranean, Middle East and India regions. The name itself derives from the Latin word ‘lavare’ meaning to ‘to wash.’ This is because the Romans bathed in the purple flower. Lavender today is cultivated around the world including regions such as Europe, Australia and the Americas.

How to Make Compounds Not Taste Like Soap

Lavender is a beautiful flower to smell but this beauty does not usually translate well to cooking.  When prepared incorrectly the flavour becomes overwhelming perfume-like and that is not a good thing.  How do you prevent this common kitchen mishap? First you need to understand what you are cooking.

Firstly, small amounts of lavender will go a long way.  When dried the flavour of lavender intensifies so use less of an amount than what you would use fresh.  For use in savoury dishes start by lightly toasting dried lavender in a dry skillet over medium heat. In doing so you evaporate the oils which contribute to perfumed notes. Instead what you are left with is the rustic and earthier flavours.  In contrast, if you are working with sweets than you never want to directly add the flower. Instead, try infusing your sugar first with lavender by grinding it or blend it with simple sugar.

Lavender Calming Abilities

Lavender today is more commercially used for its medicinal qualities rather than culinary. Medicinally lavender oil is used to soothe headaches, migraines and motion sickness. Additionally, it is reported to be beneficial for insomnia, anxiety and stress.  This belief can be backed by a particular scientific study. During three clinical trials lavender oil was administered at a dose of 80mg/day and was found to improve anxiety symptoms at a level comparable to 0.5mg/daily of lorazepam (a drug used to treat anxiety).

Compounds Responsible for Lavender Flavour

In order to determine what compounds were responsible for the flavour of lavender scientists analyzed lavender oil and found the primary compounds responsible for the scent of lavender were linalyl acetate and linalool. Linalyl acetate is found in a large range of herbs and flowers not just lavender. This occurrence occurs in herbs we associate with being herbaceous such as sage, thyme and rosemary. Linalyl acetate is described as being sweet, green, floral, spicy with a clean, woody, terpy and contains a citrus nuance.  In contrast, linalool is used in almost all floral perfumes as it described as being as citrus, orange, floral, terpenic, waxy and rose.  It is a compound which highlights fruity flavours.

Unique Flavour Combinations for Lavender

  • Lavender and Balsamic Vinegar- Balsamic vinegar has a rich sweetness that has a slight tartness depending on the preparation.  This combination works well as the lavender adds a floral flavour and slight herbaceousness with can stand up to the richness of lavender.
  • Lavender and Ginger- This combination gives the taster a rustic feel as ginger is pungent and associated herbs and medicine. The herby character of lavender pairs well with the spiciness of ginger with added with sugar.
  • Lavender and Caraway- Despite having an anise flavour note, caraway has a flavour quite similar to lavender due both having earthy feel. If you’re looking for an aromatic combination try these two in a heavier vegetable cake like zucchnini.


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