Lavender, an herb from the mint family, is perhaps best known for its floral notes that permeate soaps and perfumes. But look around town and you’ll see that the flowering plant has also been making its way onto menus.
Lavender is a “complementary flavor,” says Alicia Orsi, bar manager at Sassafras American Eatery in Capitol Hill. And when used in combination with tart or astringent ingredients, the telltale flowery-ness mellows. At Sassafras, the menu lists non-alcoholic lavender lemonade, as well as Cosmo cocktails made with house-infused lavender gin, pomegranate, and hibiscus. The gin also boosts the blackberry and vanilla bean notes in the adult milkshake.
The herb has a unique “upper and downer” effect, according to Lindsay Dalton, co-owner of the Weathervane Cafe. “It’s a flavor that really complements coffee,” she explains. The Uptown coffee shop is known for house-made syrups, including a popular lavender version that’s used in everything from lattes to shortbread. “It’s something we came up with because we had lavender buds for some reason,” Dalton says. The syrup only has two ingredients: lavender flowers and sugar, and the shop makes 32 ounces at a time and goes through about a gallon a week. Rooster & Moon Coffee Pub also has a lavender vanilla latte and Roostercat Coffee House features a similar beverage.
Over at Happy Leaf Kombucha on Brighton Boulevard, Cranberry Lavender is a signature flavor that’s been sold in bottles for about a year. “Lavender is a nice botanical to smooth out some tart flavors,” brewer Pat Percy says. The ingredient is one that the taproom’s brewers regularly experiment with. They’ve combined it with other unusual flavors, such as prickly pear, citra hops, and rose, all for on-tap kombucha.
The herb is also showing up in the kitchen. Aiko Pops in Platt Park offers a lavender-lemonade popsicle, and Broadway’s Sweet Action Ice Cream occasionally serves a blackberry lavender scoop. The ingredient also tops savory ginger squares in Savory Spice Shop’s Spice to Plate cookbook.
Clearly, lavender has left its old-fashioned, soapy image behind to emerge as a well rounded flavor that can be showcased in multiple ways. We think that’s a delicious twist of fate.
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