The most important aspects of dealing with edible flowers, microgreens, and fresh seaweed
Want to include delicate ingredients, such as edible flowers and microgreens to your menu?
Before you do, get some expert knowledge from Rob Baan, one of the most influential people in the microgreen/edible flower business worldwide. Rob Baan is considered one of Netherland’s most known gardeners… and that means something in the country known for many agricultural products and services, such as flowers and flower bulbs, seeds, vegetables, and fruits.
The founder of Koppert Cress, an internationally renowned supplier of microgreens, edible flowers, and other delicate ingredients, has contributed to the innovative revolution of agriculture, growing and using foods. Last, but not least, he partnered up to establish Rob & Bob, a modern and sustainable lunchroom for his staff, making sure his people get in at least 250 g of vegetables per day. Having worked in the Dutch seed industry for 22 years, and in over 100 countries, mainly Asia, Middle East, and Africa, he came into contact with ingredients totally unknown to western consumers.
“When you love food and you travel a lot, then you experience new flavors, new vegetables. So, I brought some to Europe and tried to do something with it, and it turned into a company, Koppert Cress. “
Sourcing, storing, and using delicate ingredients such as microgreens and edible flowers
A growing number of chefs today understand that smart storage of ingredients requires a little more than stuffing everything into cold rooms and fridges. However, when it comes to fresh storage, we still come across these old habits which stem from a basic misconception, “the colder the better.
Unfortunately, or let’s say, interestingly, it goes a little deeper than that.
Let’s look at a tomato. The tomato is a heat-loving plant from the nightshade family. Other nightshade vegetables are for example potatoes, aubergines/eggplants, chili, and peppers. As a tomato ripens, sugars are produced, which are an integral part of a tomato’s taste profile. What happens if we put a tomato into a fridge (storage below 8° Celsius)? The sugars break down and turn into starch, destroying the flavors of the fruit. (Yes, tomatoes are considered a fruit).
But every vegetable or fruit is different. If we want to understand, how to store these while protecting flavors, we need to learn from nature. A tomato plant won’t thrive below 10° Celsius, so putting a tomato under these conditions doesn’t make much sense.
Now, that we start to understand that storage conditions need to be created to mimic nature, how does this apply to unusual, innovative, and often extremely delicate ingredients, such as flowers, microgreens, etc.?
Together with Rob, we put together some easy tips, that help you to treat fragile ingredients with the care they deserve.
1. Picking a trusted supplier
As with any trending product or ingredient, it might be difficult to tell a trustworthy microgreen/ edible flower supplier from a scam. This is particularly important, as the safety of consumption has to be guaranteed.
Before doing a purchase, it is paramount to verify the source of the produce. If a supplier provides information about growing methods and ethics, sustainability, it is a good sign. Think about the fact, that these fragile beauties are not only tasty to us humans. Many insects would munch on the valuable petals. This is why, in conventional edible flower farming, the use of pesticides is common. What is special about Koppert Cress, is the very close collaboration with agricultural supplier Koppert Biological System, a company dedicated to distributing beneficial insects to farmers worldwide. Beneficial insects are seen as the most promising solution for 100 eco-friendly and pesticide-free vegetables and allow Koppert Cress to produce edible flowers without using potentially risky pesticides. This is just one example reflecting the philosophy of Koppert Cress and the many activities of Rob Baan.
“Try to work with nature, not against it.”
A trusted supplier will provide all information of their plant treatment, as well as clear recommendations for storage temperatures and conditions.
Main Takeaway: Make sure to research suppliers and verify information on pesticides and other treatments.
2. Hygienic Growing
One of the most important characteristics of trusted suppliers of delicate ingredients is a certified hygienic supply chain for growing and packaging and distribution. Unlike other vegetables or fruits, many edible flowers can not be brought into contact with water before serving. This means, the supply chain of the supplier from seeds to growing, to packaging and distribution needs to be impeccably hygienic and food safe to avoid pathogen contamination and spread. If in doubt, reach out to your supplier to understand their production process and hygiene measures.
Main Takeaway: Never compromise on hygiene.
3. Read the Storage Instructions
What we learn from Rob is, that all ingredients are different. Koppert Cress will assist the chef or mixologist by creating perfect storage conditions within the packaging. Additionally, the webshop offers an abundance of information on each microgreen/ flower variety, taste profiles, pairing recommendations, as well as in-depth storage instructions. Moai Caviar, a tropical seaweed, is grown and shipped in packs with seawater. Accordingly, storage temperatures between 17 and 25 ° Celsius need to be maintained. Violets and pansies, such as Cornabria Blossom®, are often used to garnish cocktails and dishes. These will be delivered in a small-sized cupped, equipped with a small humidity pillow to mimic the humid conditions, in which pansies naturally thrive. After opening, make sure to use them within a day, as the air will dry out the pedals, eventually turning them into a pansy crisp.
Main Takeaway: Learn from nature, because nature knows best.
4. Follow Storage Instructions
Once the cup of pansies is opened, it needs to be used within a day, to prevent drying out. Pansies love humidity, which becomes clear if we look at pansies in nature. A cold-hardy and moisture-loving plant.
“When it comes to microgreens, we only include products that can withstand the cooling process. They are delivered with the growing medium, but the root section needs cooling. This is important to halt the growing process. Without root cooling, microgreens would turn into “makrogreens” within two weeks”, explains Rob.
Main Takeaway: Trusted producers will put some effort into creating good storage conditions and providing information. Make sure to implement these recommendations for different ingredients.
5. Be open
Edible Flowers have been used for culinary purposes for millennia, but undoubtedly, they are experiencing a revival. What we learn from Rob Baan is, that today, chefs and mixologists are exploring aromas along the sour spectrum and new and unheard-of ingredients. Rob Baan tells us about apple flower blossoms that mimic the taste of Granny Smith Apples. These can be used to add just a hint of tanginess, something which is difficult to achieve with conventional acidic agents, such as citrus or vinegar. And have you ever heard of the Sechuan Buttons®? It is described as an “electrifying experience” online and seems to be a true roller coaster for taste buds. Sechuan Buttons are edible flower heads and can be found in Africa and in South America. Rob explains: “It starts with a champagne-like taste right at the tip of the tongue, then suddenly a numbing sensation spreads across the mouth, followed by increased production of saliva. This effect will trigger taste buds, or even neutralize tastes. However, he recommends being extra careful, especially for wine tasting. “
Main takeaway: There is an abundance of ingredients out there for never-ending inspiration and innovative taste experiences.