The French have been using candied violets to decorate cakes and pastries for several hundred years. The sugary flower petals add a subtle flavor and a gorgeous color that you too may enjoy trying.
Violets in French History
The idea of eating a flower or using it to flavor food may be new to you, but the French have been using
violets for centuries to flavor everything from cough syrup to bonbons. During the middle ages, when
sugar was still very rare and reserved only for the elite of society, apothecaries were the principal
creators of sweet treats that were supposedly recommended for health problems. It was at this time that the
druggists concocted violet syrup which was believed to smooth the voice.
Violets were Napoleon's favorite flower and in the 19th century a thriving violet agriculture began to take
hold in France, notably in the area around Toulouse. The flowers were used of course for their perfume,
but they also continued to be used in French cuisine. It was a druggist who popularized the idea of
crystallizing violet flowers with sugar to make a candy.
In the first half of the 20th century, the violet industry flourished in the south of France, partly
because of its particularity of being a winter blooming plant. However, the winter of 1956 brought
unusually bitter weather and the violet crops suffered significant losses. At the same time, other winter
blooming flowers were being developed and as a result violet agriculture plummeted. Candied violets were
virtually nonexistent for years. Since the mid 1980's there has been considerable effort to
revitalize the industry, and crystallized violets are now being made by several companies in different
locations in France.
Violets and Other Candied Flowers
These days, a double petaled violet is used to make the crystallized flowers. They are gathered in late winter and early spring and must be a certain size to be used for the crystallization process which involves several steps, including careful drying and immersion in sugar syrup, followed by more drying.
Candied violets are used principally to decorate foods and perhaps give them a bit of flavor. You'll find them atop cakes and pastries in France and some chefs create special desserts to feature the crystallized flower. You can also find other candied flowers including candied rose petals and candied violas.
Violet Candy and Beyond
If you are curious about flower flavored foods, you might like to try one of these other confections featuring violets.
Violet Hard Candy: These candies also feature an anise seed at the center and come in a pretty tin.
Chocolate Covered Violet Petals: Some people love these wild looking treats.
Violet Chewing Gum: Here's an easy introduction to violet flavoring.
Violet Syrup: For a delightfully different and refreshing drink, mix violet syrup with cold water. You could also use this syrup to flavor plain yoghurt or even milk.