Overcooked: Lavender – Good for the Bathtub, Good for the Brisket

I don’t enjoy licking a soap dish, and frankly, that’s what lavender sometimes tastes like when it’s used in culinary applications. After all, lavender’s Latin root is lavare, which means to wash.

I know, lots of people like it and I also know that it’s an essential ingredient in the classic French Herbs de Provence, but I suspect that people are either using it badly, or using the wrong kind of lavender. Or maybe I’m just a crank and I don’t like it. Both are probably true.

The other day, I tasted an award-winning cheese that had been rubbed with coffee and lavender.  This is a really well-made cheese, not some cheap, flavored processed product, but it created a confusing good-bad experience in my mouth. The cheese tasted great. I liked the touch of coffee, but the lavender left me, blech. I suspect this is just my taste.

On the other hand, I have tried poorly executed, overly soapy tasting dishes with lavender that are just wrong. Lavender has an overpowering taste and smell and should be used both sparingly and smartly. But first make sure you use the right type. Any old ornamental lavender that you pick might not be suitable for culinary use. Use culinary lavender.

Here are a few recipes I might try, if I liked lavender.

In this Peach Lavender Ice Cream notice there’s only 1 teaspoon of lavender in this recipe. Also it’s a recipe adapted from David Lebovitz’s book, The Perfect Scoop. I trust David, so this is probably tasty.

This Lavender Marinated Leg of Lamb likewise is from an accomplished chef. In this case, Michael Tusk, of San Francisco’s Quince restaurant. I like that the lavender is in the marinade, not stuffed into the lamb.

Lavender and honey have a natural affinity and these Honey Lavender Cookies sound pretty good.

Also, check out Farmers’ Market Desserts by Jennie Schacht. There’s a Lavender Shortbread recipe in the book that I’ve tasted and liked.

Lavender – if you must eat it, rather than bathe in it, do so cautiously.

Editor’s note: This is a new column by Vanessa Barrington. For the lighter side of all things foodie, read Overcooked weekly. Overcooked: helping you make the most of today’s trendiest ingredient…before it’s overdone. Be sure to catch Vanessa’s original EcoSalon column, The Green Plate, on the environmental, social, and political issues related to what and how we eat.

Image: PossumGirl via Flickr

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.