The story appears on

Page B2

March 9, 2017

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » iDEAL

Flowers as tasty to eat as they are pretty to view

FLOWERS are not only for expressing personal sentiments or for admiring on walks through the park. They can also be tasty.

In Chinese cuisine, they are often essential ingredients.

One of the most popular edible flowers in China is osmanthus, a fall blossom with a unique sweet scent. It’s added to various desserts and pastries for extra aroma.

But now we are in springtime, heading for summer, so a different set of flowers figures in recipes. This week, iDEAL explores some of the exciting tastes that await the adventurous.

Sophora flowers

The flowers of the sophora tree, also known as the Japanese pagoda, are edible from April to May. Though the tree is native to East Asia, the generic name comes from sophera, which is Arabic for “pea-flower tree.” Sophora is a member of the pea family and grows largely in northern parts of China.

The aromatic white flowers can be used in cooking before or after their buds blossom.

There are many ways to enjoy this flower. Unlike other edible flowers, such as roses and cherry blossoms mainly used in desserts, the fragrant sophora flower is more typically used in savory dishes. Steaming the flower is the most common cooking method to bring out its full taste.

The fresh flowers are carefully rinsed and air-dried until most the water content is gone.

They are then mixed with a small amount of flour and steamed for 5 to 10 minutes.

The mixture is then topped with a simple dressing of crushed garlic, vinegar, light soy sauce, sesame oil and a touch of sugar.

For a simple stir-fry dish, mix fresh sophora flowers into whisked egg and season with just a pinch of salt and chopped scallion to make a floral scrambled egg.

Sophora flowers can also be used in making fillings for dumplings or steamed buns, adding a fresh, spring-like flavor.

They can be added to minced pork with Chinese chives or scallions.

For a quick breakfast, many Chinese households mix sophora flowers into a simple pancake batter of flour, egg and salt.

The pancake is lightly pan-fried until both sides are golden crisp. The dish can be paired with a simple egg-drop soup topped with sophora flowers as well.

The elm tree flower is also edible in the spring and prepared in the same way as sophora flowers. The flowers have a delicate fragrance and taste, compared with the sweeter, more aromatic sophora.

Fresh flowers are not easy to keep in storage.

One common method is to steam the flowers and then freeze them for future use.

Pumpkin flowers

The meatiness of pumpkin and zucchini flowers make them a popular ingredient in both Chinese and Western cuisines.

The flowers are available from May to July. They can be battered and fried as a quick snack or added to stir-fries and scrambled eggs.

Pumpkin flower pancakes are a rural staple, mixing the chopped flower petals with eggs and flour to make thin pancakes.

A more complex way to enjoy pumpkin flowers is to stuff them with a filling of minced pork, chopped shitake mushroom, tofu and youtiao (fried dough stick), seasoned with salt and light soy sauce. The stuffed flowers are arranged in a pot and boiled in water for around 10 minutes.

For a quick soup of delightful color, simply boil the flowers in water and season with salt and a teaspoon of oil.

When rinsing the flowers, it’s important to be gentle and not damage the petals. Be sure to check the centers for any remaining small insects.


Roses, the symbol of romance, are also popular edible flowers worldwide.

In Western cuisine, rose water made from the flowers is used in everything from beverages to desserts and baked goods. In China, one of the most famous recipes is the rose cake of Yunnan Province.

The sweet puff pastry with sugared rose petal filling is said to have originated more than 300 years ago as a dessert in the imperial court. In 1945, the Kunming Guan Sheng Yuan Co started to make rose cakes, using a pastry and sugared rose petal sauce in the filling.

The cakes also contain rock sugar, sesame seeds, peanuts, walnuts, jujube paste, chrysanthemum flowers and lard.

April is the best time to enjoy rose cake. It is an ideal dessert to pair with mellow Pu’er tea, also a Yunnan specialty.

Fragrant roses work best with sweet dishes, so they can also be added to rice congees.

Destination: Yunnan

Often called the “kingdom of plants,” Yunnan Province is the best place in China to sample the floral treats of springtime.

Yunnan regional cuisine has taken the concept of cooking with flowers to a whole new level. In addition to their famous rose cakes, the locals have also developed recipes that take advantage of lesser-known edible flowers.

Banana is widely cultivated in Yunnan, and its flower can be added to stir-fries on its own or with meats. The somewhat sweet flowers must be scalded in hot water and then cooled in cold water to eliminate bitterness. Some restaurants in Dali, Lijiang and Kunming are famous for this local specialty.

In addition, banana flowers have medicinal uses in traditional Chinese medicine.

Though most people have seen the fiery red pomegranate flower, not many realize that it is also edible.

The flower is fragrant and refreshing, with a hint of bitterness to balance the flavor.

The pomegranate flowers used in cooking are not those that are freshly picked. The petals are scalded in boiling water and then left to soak in water for two days before being stir-fried with chili pepper.

The flower of the birch-leaf pear tree, a shrub that grows in the wild, is a popular spring delicacy in Kunming. The slightly bitter flowers are scalded with boiling water before being fried as a snack, tossed with vinegar and soy sauce as cold appetizer, or added to soups.

The flowers of the giant kapok tree, which is mainly found in rainforests, also make delicious eating. The flowers are especially popular in Jinghong, Pu’er and Nujiang. Many locals pick the kapok flowers in season and then dry them for use in dishes like pork stew or in blending teas with honeysuckle and chrysanthemum. The fresh flowers can be added to congees and soups as well.

And finally, camellia flowers from tea tree plants can be added to sweet glutinous rice congee or as garnish in steamed glutinous rice stuffed with lotus root.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend