The salads of the future
Edible flowers have been used throughout the centuries as "glamorous" ingredients for salads and food/dessert decoration. However, what most people do not know is that flowers can be sources of valuable nutrients, carotenoids and polyphenols.
In these two studies, the nutritional properties of several flowers have been analysed: dahlias, roses, marigolds, mountain cornflower, elderflower, french honeysuckle and mallow.
Scientists have found that:
- most flowers are rich in fibre, natural sugars, organic acids, polyunsaturated fats (especially linoleic acid) and also small amounts of protein
- calendula/marigold is rich in tocopherol (vitamin E) and carotenoids (vitamin A precursor)
- elderflower has high levels of the antioxidants rutin and quercetin and the highest overall antioxidant activity, with cornflower being a close runner-up
- mallow can help keep high blood glucose and weight in check, by inhibiting the absorption of carbohydrates
- additionally, elderflower has the strongest activity against lipid peroxidation, one of the causes of cardiovascular disease
The Instagram-able superfoods
Typically plant pigments represent healthful "antioxidants" (carotenoids and polyphenols), and most flowers are appreciated for their vibrant colours. This means that flowers are an undiscovered treasure trove of wholesomeness for our plate.
Only a tiny sample of the abundance of deeply colourful flowers available has being investigated by these two studies, so we expect in future studies more beneficial effects to be discovered
Edible flowers are clearly an amazing source of taste, decoration, colour, glamour and nutrients for our plate, and clearly there is huge potential in marketing them as salad ingredients as well as nutritional supplements.
Flowers could become the salads of the future, and many of them can easily attain superfood status, due to their high micronutrient and low calorie profile - not to mention the Instagram factor!
- Paper 1: Nutritional and chemical characterization of edible petals and corresponding infusions: Valorization as new food ingredients
- Abstract 1: Edible flowers provide new colours, textures and vibrancy to any dish, and apart from the “glam” factor, they can constitute new sources of bioactive compounds. In the present work, the edible petals and infusions of dahlia, rose, calendula and centaurea, were characterized regarding their nutritional value and composition in terms of hydrophilic and lipophilic compounds. Carbohydrates were the most abundant macronutrients, followed by proteins and ash. Fructose, glucose and sucrose were identified in all the petals and infusions. Rose petals and calendula infusions gave the highest content of organic acids, mainly due to the presence of malic and quinic acids, respectively. Polyunsaturated fatty acids predominated over saturated fatty acids, mainly due to the contribution of linoleic acid. Calendula presented the highest content in tocopherols, with α-tocopherol as the most abundant. These results highlight the interest of edible petals “as” and “in” new food products, representing rich sources of bioactive nutrients. Highlights: Edible petals can be included in a daily diet as nutrients source. Edible petals can be also used in infusions providing soluble sugars and organic acids. Rose petals gave the highest content of organic acids and sugars. Calendula petals presented the highest content in tocopherols.
- Paper 2: Edible Flowers: A Rich Source of Phytochemicals with Antioxidant and Hypoglycemic Properties
- Abstract 2: Edible flowers are receiving renewed interest as rich sources of bioactive compounds. Ethanol extracts of eight edible flowers were phytochemically characterized and investigated for their bioactivity. Rutin, quercetin, luteolin, kaempferol, and myricetin were selected as standards and quantified by HPLC. The fatty acid profile was analyzed by GC and GC-MS. Antioxidant properties were evaluated by using different in vitro tests. The hypoglycemic effects were investigated via the inhibition of α-amylase and α-glucosidase. Sambucus nigra exhibited the highest radical-scavenging activity (IC50 of 1.4 μg/mL), followed by Hedysarum coronarium (IC50 of 1.6 μg/mL). Both species contained high quercetin and rutin contents. S. nigra extract exerted the highest activity in preventing lipid oxidation. Malva sylvestris extract inhibited both α-amylase and α-glucosidase with IC50 values of 7.8 and 11.3 μg/mL, respectively. These findings support the consumption of edible flowers as functional foods and their use as sources of natural antioxidants by the food industry.