The flavour of the week is violet. Violet is a genus of flowering plants in the violet family Violaceae, with around 400–500 species distributed around the world. Most species are found in the temperate Northern Hemisphere, however some are also found in widely divergent areas such as Hawaii, Australasia, and the Andes. Violets are used in perfumery, alcohol, medicines and cuisine.
When newly opened, Viola flowers may be used to decorate salads and soufflés, while ice cream and similar desserts can be flavoured with essence of Viola flowers. The young leaves are edible raw or cooked as a somewhat bland leaf vegetable. There are many types of violets and their culinary uses vary from type to type. For example, the flowers and leaves of the cultivar 'Rebecca', one of the Violetta violets, have a distinct vanilla flavour with hints of wintergreen. The pungent perfume of other types add sweetness to desserts, fruit, and teas while the mild pea flavour of V. tricolor combines well with savoury foods, like grilled meats and steamed vegetables.
One popular method of preserving the flower is to candy them. Candied violet or crystallized violet is a flower preserved by a coating of egg white and crystallised sugar. Alternatively, hot syrup is poured over the fresh flower (or the flower is immersed in the syrup) and stirred until the sugar recrystallizes and has dried. Candied violets are still made commercially in Toulouse, France, where they are known as violettes de Toulouse. They are used as decorating or included in aromatic desserts.
The French are also known for their violet syrup, most commonly made from an extract of violets. In alcohol, violet essence flavours Crème Yvette, Crème de Violette, and Parfait d'Amour. It is also used in Parma Violet confectionery.
The flowers, leaves and roots of various species are used for medicinal purposes, being rich in vitamins A and C and antioxidants. The flowers are also used to make an herbal tea that is used in Chinese herbal medicine to relieve hay fever, sinus problems, eczema, and more. Most violas and many plants of the Violaceae plant family contain cyclotides. These compounds have a diverse range of biological activities when isolated from the plant, including uterotonic, anti-HIV, antimicrobial, and insecticidal activities.
Viola odorata is used as a source for scents in the perfume industry. Violet is an interesting scent because ionone is present in the flowers, which is a compound that turns off the ability for humans to smell the fragrance for moments at a time.
The scent of violet leaves is different from the scent of the flowers. The leaves give off an intense green aroma which resembles mowed grass combined with a hint of cucumber. The fresh scent of violet leaves is an integral component in many fragrance compositions, ranging from fresh floral to oriental spicy and fougere.
Violet liqueur was an integral part of classic cocktails such as the Aviation, though its use in modern bartending is much diminished.