Which Variety of Lavender is Best For Baking?
Not all lavender is delicious.
In late August the Intermedia varieties such as Alba, Grosso, Dutch white, Old English and Lavender Seal come into flower. These large varieties are grown commercially for perfume. They are large plants when fully grown, with long grey green leaves and tall flowers. They also have very different culinary properties from the smaller traditional cottage garden Angustifolia which is in flower in June and the one best used for baking. Personally I find the Intermedia varieties are almost without exception overpowering in food, being both harsh and camphorous. It is the standard cottage garden species of lavender Angustifolia, that add the sweet tones to your cakes and bread. Look for varieties such as Hidcote, Munstead, Rosea but any any Angustifolia will be beautifully scented and absolutely delicious to use. There are so many different varieties of lavender that choosing the right one to use in you making or cooking is rather difficult. Pick the right one and you have a delicious light minty sweet perfumed one.
To get the very best from your lavender flavour you must pick the unopened buds. Chose a warm day at about midday when the sun is high. This way the heat concentrates the oils for more intensity. Once opened, the flowers lose the essential oils that impart the flavour. Dry your lavender upside down, spaced out to allow air around the flowers, in a well-aired dark environment. 3 days is usually enough to dry lavender picked in this way. Keep the stems in the dark to keep the intensity of the colour. Once fully dry store in an airtight container, out of sunlight. You should make a fresh batch each year; if you don’t have lavender in the garden there are many pick our own farms or you could ask a friendly neighbour.
Please note that although beautiful French Lavender or lavender Stoechas is not great in cooking it has two flowerings a year in mid spring and again in early autumn. You can use the petals to cook with but it doesn't have a great taste and does not store well, so my advice it to avoid it!