Food aficionados take their meals seriously – the ingredients, the health attributes, the farm sources. But, most of all, they delight in the presentation. One aspect of culinary design that has been growing in popularity is the use of garnishes which artistically add to food dishes. And what better accent piece than a colorful orchid blossom.
The use of orchids as garnishes in the United States dates back fifty years when Dendrobium producers in Hawaii began raising acres of plants for the cut flower industry. A single stem of Dendrobium flowers cost less than a dollar and had 12-15 small blossoms that would last several weeks in water. Upscale restaurants would add a flower or two to their entrees to give a tropical look.
By the 1980’s, Dendrobium breeding had advanced and new varieties were introduced that were larger and more vibrant. Chefs began requesting specific hybrids such as Ekapol ‘Big Panda’ and Sonia ‘Bom’ which were 3” across and had deep magenta and white petals. Nearly the size of crab cakes, orchid garnishes were beginning to get the attention of the patron.
With the advent of social media, food presentation or ‘plating’ as it is referred to, has become its own industry. Dendrobiums are still the orchid garnish of choice, but culinary designers are increasingly looking to other genera to enhance their dishes.
Oncidiums or ‘Dancing Ladies’ work well because of the large number of blossoms they produce. The stems often grow branches, resulting in dozens of small flowers, approx 1 ½” wide. The colors are commonly ‘sunset’ tones – yellows, oranges, and burgundies with some offering a hint of fragrance.
Phalaenopsis or ‘Moth Orchid’ hybrids can be found in nearly all sizes and colors. Some varieties may have flowers 4” across, so only one blossom is needed as a garnish. The cut stems last up to three weeks so there is ample time to use them.
Though orchid flowers are edible, food designers primarily use the delicate petals for color and texture. It is important that the orchids must not have been sprayed with pesticides if they are to be eaten.
Though lemon wedges and parsley sprigs are the most common food garnishes, today’s chefs and even home cooks can improve their culinary presentation with the simple addition of cut orchids. The old adage, ‘You eat with your eyes’, invites the use of orchids which are so visually appealing that almost any plate will seem more delicious.