In this article we will discover the Lavender, the varieties available on the market, how to use the flowers or other derived products in cocktails.
First of all, when we talk about lavender or lavandula, we do not refer to a single specie, but to a genus of shrubs belonging to the Lamiaceae family.
At the present state of knowledge, the lavender genus counts of 47 species and hybrids but only a few of them are commercially important. It is an annual or perennial plant, originally from the Mediterranean basin but currently also grown in Asia, in Arabian Peninsula, in Canary Islands and in Cape Verde.
Morphologically it is easy to recognize because the inflorescences are purple spikes. The color is so characteristic that, in common language, it is identified as ‘lavender color’.
For people who love to travel, the Provence lavender itinerary is very famous. Provence is a region located in the south-east of France. Here you can admire cultivated fields, very suggestive during the flowering period (June-August), visit distilleries of essential oils and the companies producing the famous lavender honey.
The word lavender comes from the Latin work lavare, ‘to wash’. The ancient Romans used this aromatic plant to perfume bath water. Over the centuries it has also been used in mummification processes and as a presumed remedy against plague. During the Victorian age was used to create fragrances for the body.
Nowadays, these plants are mainly cultivated to obtain the essential oils used in the cosmetics industry, detergents and perfumes. It is also used in the food and liquor industry: many alcoholic products, among the other spices or aromatic plants, have lavender flowers. Although less interesting for bartenders, in private and public gardens, lavender is one of the most important ornamental plant.
Which are the most important cultivars and the main aromatic compounds in lavander?
Of all the species, those used for the extraction of essential oils are: Lavandula angustifolia, also called true Lavender, Lavandula x intermedia (or L. x hybrida), also called Dutch lavender and Lavandula latifolia. Dutch lavender (Lavandula x intermedia) is a sterile hybrid of L. angustifolia and L. latifolia originally from southern France. It is believed that the best essential oil comes from Lavandula angustifolia, however this statement is not supported by any scientific evidence.
The oils are made up of more than 100 aromatic compounds, but those in larger quantities are linalool and linalyl acetate. Lavandula x intermedia and Lavandula latifolia also contain camphor. The composition of these oils may vary slightly depending on the lavender cultivation area: for example, in Indian lavender oils there is also citronellol, also present in geranium and citronella oils.
How to use lavender in cocktails
Lavender is a very versatile aromatic plant because it is very easy and quick to extract the aroma. With a simple infusion it is possible to flavour the water which can then be converted into a syrup by adding the right amount of sugar. The infusion can also be carbonated to obtain a flavoured soda. If you want to make the lavender soda is essential to filter the infusion through a fine strainer, then through a coffee filter (paper) to remove all the impurities that would lead to a loss of effervescence.
It is also easy to make alcohol tinctures with this plant. You can spray the lavender tincture on drinks or you can mix it with other bitter tinctures to create your own home-made lavender bitters.
If you can buy food grade spikes, you can easily store them for many months. You can crystalize the spikes by immersing them in a mixture of water and arabic gum, adding sugar on the surface and then drying them. The spikes are a beautiful, simple and fragarant decoration. Even single flowers, especially those of Lavandula x intermedia, are a beautiful and fragrant decoration.
Another ingredient you can use is lavender honey. Honey is an excellent sweetener and can replace sugar in many recipes. In this way you will give a more complex aroma to drinks. Very famous is the honey of Provence. In Italy, a very valuable lavender honey, easily available online, is the wild lavender honey produced in Sardinia. To use honey in mixing it is necessary to dilute it in water (honey mix) according to the sweetness and density desidered. It is important to remember that once diluted, honey will no longer have a sugar content that will ensure a long storage time. Dilute the amount of honey needed, keep it in the fridge and consume within 2-3 days.
Also essential oils can be used in mixing, but it is important to pay extreme attention. First, they must be food grade and a few drops (1-2) are enough to flavour one liter of alcohol. NEVER use essential oils in purity within a drink.
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