For Josué Barona, the Mercado San Juan has always been part of his life: his mother and father both have stalls there, just around the corner from each other, and he has been working among the bustling food stands from a young age. While the stand that the now 35-year-old works at doesn’t really have a name – it is simply number 259 – many know it as Rosse Gourmet, the name he has given to the side of his business that sells edible flowers and micro greens.
“We have been selling edible flowers for the last ten years,” he tells us as he counts colorful pansies into plastic containers ready for a big order he’s preparing to send out. “Before that, the flowers didn’t exist [for sale] like this in Mexico.” While some flowers have always been part of Mexican cuisine, the experimentation with others, traditionally seen as decorative and not for consumption, is a much newer concept.
Among his collection of edible blooms, there are nasturtiums, borage, onion buds and garlic flowers, wild cempasúchil, fennel flowers as well as some micro greens like pea and radish shoots. The colorful selection is slightly hidden within plastic boxes that keep them fresh.
Barona, who has his finger on the pulse of Mexico City’s food scene, noticed a decade ago that chefs and the creative bosses of restaurants were looking for flowers and began to investigate. When producers would come in with herbs he would spot the blooms on them and ask if they had more. “They didn’t use the flowers, they just threw them away,” he says, explaining that the producers were happy to bring the flowers to him.
Now he stocks flowers from all over the country and sells them to some of the city’s most lauded high-end restaurants, including Azul Histórico owned by renowned chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita, located close to the bustling San Juan Market. Barona loves to talk shop with chefs who come by his stall, sharing their different experiments with and recipes for edible flowers.
As we talk, Barona places flowers in our palm. “Taste that, tell me what the flavors are,” he says, turning away to continue counting flowers – not unfriendly just focused on the work he needs to get done.
We are amazed by the flavor that a petal or two can produce on our now very alert taste buds.
Some taste spicy, while others have a garlic or onion flavor. Still others have a more subtle taste like cucumber and some unassuming blooms have a citrusy tang. We are amazed by the flavor that a petal or two can produce on our now very alert taste buds.
Chef Daniel Pioquinto Mendoza passes by as we’re chatting with Barona, looking for some flowers to add to a special dish he’s creating for Mexico’s independence day.
Like Barona, Pioquinto sees the use of edible flowers as an extension of Mexico’s already established floral-infused cuisine. However, he says that “people are still not accustomed to eating [more decorative] flowers,” describing how diners will often leave a flower that is perfectly edible on the plate, having eaten around it.
Pioquinto enjoys experimenting with edible flowers. When making a dish that would normally require onion, he might “use onion flower instead… or if I want to add spice but not use a salsa, I might add nasturtiums for example,” he explains.
As Pioquinto leaves in search of corn sprouts at Barona’s mother’s stall, we get back to talking about experimenting with edible flowers.
“I give the raw material to [culinary] students and they try out different recipes and let me know what works,” says Barona, his entrepreneurial mind clearly showing. This kind of research and experimentation helps him to work with chefs on ideas and to sell his edible flowers confidently.
He also makes his own creations, including his acclaimed rose chocolate mousse, a red rose filled with chocolate foam and decorated with other flowers, which is available to customers who book a day or two in advance. Also by prior booking, Barona offers a flavorful edible flower tour that involves sampling a number of different varieties before enjoying the sweet and very beautiful dessert.
“Foreigners and locals come for the tour and sometimes people just pass by for the rose,” he says with a smile, proud of his creation.
Barona and Pioquinto believe that the real boom around edible flowers exploded a couple of years ago in Mexico, in line with a similar boom in high-end kitchens across the world. The global movement has been growing in momentum since the 1980s, however, inspired by the French chef Michel Bras.
Today, according to Notimex, of the 70 varieties of edible flowers in the world, 50 are cultivated in Mexico, making it the perfect place for chefs to experiment with using flowers to create intriguing and exciting flavors. It seems that there are plenty more unique dishes still to be created. The power of the flower lives on in Mexican cuisine.