Formulating with lavender requires careful attention to flavor, color

Lavender is showing up in more products, and more types of products, than ever. But this popular herb requires a careful touch and a well-informed approach. One of the world’s foremost experts on culinary lavender shares her advice.

Nick Collias, Contributing writer

June 27, 2024

3 Min Read

At a Glance

  • Lavender works best in combination with other flavors rather than on its own.
  • Different varietals offer different flavor profiles and strengths for specific preparations.
  • Although the herb doesn’t impart a lavender-like purple, natural solutions can help achieve the desired color.

Lavender is without a doubt one of the hottest flavors of 2024 and is appearing in an ever-wider variety of new products. But this perennial herb’s unique flavors aren’t always easy to tame. Most of us can point to a treat that sounded good in theory, but ended up soapy, pungent and just plain “off.” 

Nancy Bagget, the author of the Art of Cooking with Lavender (a must-read for anyone making a lavender product) and over 15 other cookbooks, has been exploring the surprisingly wide world of culinary lavender for over a decade. She said the herb has strengths and potential far beyond what most consumers and brands realize.

Here are her major dos and don’ts for brands and formulators looking to capitalize on the rising popularity of lavender.

Do: Think “lavender and…”

A major reason why some consumers have unpleasant associations with lavender is because they’ve tried a product that over-relied on the herb, Baggett says. On the contrary, one of lavender’s strengths is its ability to enhance, and be enhanced by, other flavors.

Two of Bagget’s favorite starting points for exploration are lavender with ginger and lavender with lemon. Citrus fruits can bring down lavender’s innate pungency, while gingerbread and ginger flavors create unexpected new flavors.

“Lavender and ginger in particular have an incredible affinity for one another, and together they make a totally different product,” she explained.

Some of Baggett’s favorite flavor affinities for lavender include chamomile, blackberry, sausage, chocolate and many more.

Don’t: Utilize lavender essential oils for flavoring

Baggett says she has heard of some candy companies utilizing lavender essential oils in their products, and the result is harsh and unpleasant. She recommends leaving the oils for cosmetics, lotions and soaps and relying on gentler extraction methods.

Appropriate lavender preparations for foods and beverages include:

  • Simple dried buds

  • Lavender-infused butter, cooking oil or cream

  • Dry-ground lavender with sugar or honey

  • Gently steeped lavender water

  • Lavender syrups

Do: Explore multiple lavender varieties

The lavender label encompasses over 40 species of flowers. And even the most popular culinary species, lavandula angustifolia or “true lavender,” comes in dozens of different varieties or “cultivars,” each with their own flavors and potential uses.

A few of Bagget’s favorites and their strengths include:

  • Buena Vista: “A nice color, all-purpose lavender with citrus and sweet notes. It’s got all the things you’d want in a fruit beverage.”

  • Betty’s Blue: “A bluish color with a nice middle-of-the-road flavor.”

  • Folgate: “I like to make this into a syrup, which I can use with other fruits and ice cream sundaes.”

  • Melissa and Jean Davis: “They both offer great flavor and aroma with a pale pink color. They won’t impart much color. Both are great in baked goods.”

  • Edgerton Blue: “It has the absolute best color.”

  • Royal Velvet: “It’s very popular, possibly because it has such a beautiful color. But it doesn't have quite the depth of flavor of some others.”

  • Provence or “French” lavender: “If you want something more herbal for cooking or for savory preparations, this is the one to use.”

Don’t: Think only in terms of sweet

Lavender and pork fried rice? You read that right. Baggett says she began exploring lavender’s potential in savory preparations after trying a lavender-infused burrata by acclaimed chef Yotam Ottolenghi, after the two collaborated on a Washington Post article about lavender back in 2016. Now it’s become a staple in her salty and smoky dishes as well as sweet ones.

Do: Have a color backup plan

If you expect lavender to impart that trademark soft purple color to your food and beverage product, think again. Many lavender varieties turn gray when heated or made into syrups and other flavorings.

“I always like to add in a few drops of lemon juice, not only because it brings up the flavor, but it also affects the color pigments,” she said. “So a lavender syrup that has very little color will start to have a pale pink color like rose wine.”

If robust purple coloring is a must, Baggett recommends utilizing purple sweet potato powder, which has a neutral flavor and a lavender-like color. She recommends avoiding butterfly pea flower, which offers a similar color but can create a harsh aftertaste.

About the Author(s)

Nick Collias

Contributing writer

Nick Collias is a writer and editor with over a decade of experience working in the health and fitness industry. From 2016 to 2021, he was the host of the Podcast, interviewing elite athletes and training thought-leaders on a wide range of exercise, nutrition and lifestyle topics. Additionally, he has worked for the last 20 years as a longform print and online journalist, as well as a book author, ghostwriter and editor. 

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