Patti is a Certified Dietary Manager and Certified Restaurant Manager. Her knowledge is based on her nutritional training and experiences.
How to Garnish Food
Garnishes are items or substances used as decorative elements to enhance a meal or a drink. Often, it will add or contrast the flavor. While some garnishes are chosen primarily for their visual impact, others are chosen specifically for the flavor they can impart. Although some garnishes can be eaten, most are not intended to be eaten.
Those who haven't tried garnishing food before may find it confusing. Garnishes are often best when they are simple and colorful, so don't try to craft a whole new recipe to pair with your meal. You can choose from a variety of creative options for all types of entrées or desserts.
When to Garnish
People eat with their eyes as well as with their mouths. This is why we add extra appeal to many of our foods in the form of garnishments, toppings, and accompaniments. Food decorations should be used as a way of adding color, flavor, contrast, form and texture. They should be appropriate for the food to which they have been added and should add pleasure to the eating experience.
Topping, as the name implies, means to top a food, to sprinkle on, or pour over. Accompanying means to go with such as mint jelly with lamb.
Remember, a garnish should be:
- used cautiously
- used only when needed
Fresh herbs are not just for adding flavor and color while cooking, they are perfect to use as a topping to complement the taste and appearance of food. They can be used whole or diced to make the appearance of any dish look more appealing. When you pair a garnish with your meal, keep it simple and colorful by including a few colorful ingredients. You can come up with more elaborate ideas for any entrée or dessert if you are looking for something more creative.
8 Fresh Herbs Used for Garnishing
- Basil comes in many varieties. Purple basil, sweet basil, and Thai basil have their own flavor intensity and leaves that differ in size and color. It's known to have a sweet peppery flavor. However, Thai basil has more of a sweeter taste with a licorice scent. It goes well with tomatoes and is used to make pesto, which adds more flavor and color to any dish. Purple basil is the best choice for an added pop in color on the plate.
- Chervil is similar to parsley but a little milder. Its flavor can easily get lost during the cooking process. Chop a considerate amount and sprinkle over food right before serving. It's the perfect topping for meat, fish, poultry, steamed vegetables, salads, egg dishes, and soups.
- Chives have a light onion flavor and look a lot like the grass growing on your lawn. Its versatility allows it to be used on practically any dish. Chives are an excellent garnish when chopped finely. Sprinkle on egg dishes, potatoes, soups, salads, and vegetables for a splash of color without an overpowering taste of onion.
- Cilantro, also known as Chinese parsley or Mexican parsley, looks like parsley with flat leaves. This herb is best used with spicy foods like tomatillo salsa and chimichurri. It's the perfect topping for pad Thai and tacos.
- Dill or dillweed has a tangy grassy flavor. It's an herb often used in pickling. Used sparingly, freshly chopped dill goes well with fish, steamed vegetables, sauces, soups, salads, and egg dishes. As a garnish, it enhances the flavor of salmon and steak dishes very well.
- Mint comes in a variety of flavors. Apple, ginger, pineapple, peppermint, and spearmint taste just like their namesake. Whole leaves are better used to garnish desserts, punch, water, and some cocktails. When finely chopped, it looks better sprinkled over jellies, salads, soups, sauces and steamed vegetables.
- Rosemary has a strong pine-like flavor and should be used cautiously when cooking. It is an attractive herb when the leaves are chopped and sprinkled on roasted vegetables tossed in olive oil. It's an herb that is excellent when paired with chicken, fish and pork chops. The leaves of the plant give off a mustard-like aroma when they are roasted with meats or vegetables, along with a charred wood scent that complements barbecued foods. Use the whole branch along with its purple flowers for a garnish that is both bold and beautiful.
- Thyme comes in a wide variety of flavors that differ slightly. It is characterized by a woody stem paired with leaf or flower clusters. Use the whole sprig or chop the leaves and sprinkle on meat, pizza, steamed vegetables, soups, salads, sauces and marinades.
Top 5 Edible Flowers for Garnishing
- Pansies come in a variety of colors that make this common flower an impressive garnishment. Some colors are purple, blue, and yellow. Also called violas, they have a mild floral taste and look beautiful on cakes, cupcakes, cookies, soups, tossed salad, fruit salad, and other desserts.
- Hibiscus come in hundreds of species and colors. Roselle or Hibiscus sabdariffa is the most popular variety. It has a citrus overtone with cranberry flavor. This flower is normally used in jam, tea, salads, and relishes.
- Nasturtium is brightly colored and fragile with a sweet peppery flavor. They look like pansies except these flowers come in yellow, red, and orange. Perfect for garnishing platters, appetizers, salads, pastries, cakes, and open-faced sandwiches.
- Cornflowers are mostly purple but also come in white and pink varieties. Also called the Bachelors button, this edible flower is sweet and spicy, with a slight taste of cloves.
- Bee Balm or monarda has a citrusy flavor with a hint of mint and oregano. Use these blossoms to garnish any dish that contains oregano.
One Last Thing to Remember When Garnishing
You should avoid unappetizing garnishes such as raw herbs, large citrus chunks, and anything that smells strongly. You would ruin your guests' experience with these flavor bites by overpowering everything else. In addition, to speed up the process, avoid garnishes that take too long to apply.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2011 Patti Davis