Revered in Japan, the cherry blossom holds a significant place in Japanese food culture. Although the fresh petals don't taste much, they're used in a wide array of foods. Each spring, the blooming of the cherry trees ushers in a season of revelry.

Hanami, or the cherry blossom festival, occurs each year when the cherry trees bloom in Japan. People old and young gather under the blooming cherry blossoms to appreciate the beauty of sakura, cherry blossoms in Japanese. Because the flowers are edible, there is naturally a lot of food and drink recipes using the flowers as well.

Both the leaves and the flowers are edible, although the best ones don’t necessarily come from the most beautiful kind, somei-yoshino blossoms. Edible flowers are often the deep-pink-colored, multi-petaled Yae-zakura blossoms. The best leaves for preservation, meanwhile, come from the fragrant Oshima-zakura variety. While many hanami favorites feature sakura, you see cherry blossoms incorporated in Japanese dishes throughout the rest of the year as well.

Salted Cherry Blossoms

One of the most common ways to treat sakura is pickling. After plucking, the farmers wash flowers in water and Ume plum vinegar, which preserves the beautiful pale pink color. Then, they pickle the flowers in salt for several weeks, a method to preserve the unique flavor of cherry blossoms throughout the whole year. You can purchase this product easily online or at a local Japanese grocery store. Buying this product will enable you to make various cherry blossom foods at home.

Sakura Tea

Typical sakura tea consists of a blend of sencha green tea and dried cherry petals. Pickled cherry blossoms are also used to make sakura tea, but this type of tea is usually for special occasions such as weddings. You just need to steep cherry blossoms in hot water to make sakura tea. Sakura tea is a slightly salty and ultimately floral beverage. Because of the saltiness, this tea is not for everyone, but worth trying if you are curious.

Sakura Mochi

A traditional Japanese sweet, sakura mochi is comprised of red bean paste called koshian wrapped in sweet, pink mochi, which is then covered with salted sakura for an interesting contrast of flavors. People in Japan traditionally eat sakura mochi in the springtime for Hinamatsuri, or Girls’ Day, on March 3. The holiday welcomes spring and celebrates all the girls in the family. Another wagashi (dessert) item is domyoji, a lumpy rice paste that’s similarly wrapped with sakura leaf.

Cherry Blossom Jelly

There are several types of jellied desserts that incorporate sakura. Yokan is made by straining sakura bean paste until it’s smooth, then mixing it with a gelling agent made from seaweed. Likewise, sakura kanten is a firm gel texture, but it is translucent. Sakura kanten often contains cherry blossom petals within the jelly to create a striking dessert.

Another desserts is a beautiful version of raindrop cake. All you need is some water, sake, agar powder, sugar and some cherry blossoms. This pretty raindrop cake will definitely decorate your dining table with a touch of spring and impress your guests.

Sakura Rice

Sakura rice is another specialty food. Made by using sakura water to cook the rice, sakura rice has a subtly salty taste, as well as a floral aroma and delicate color. The rice can then be molded into any number of shapes, including the traditional onigiri triangle. Although you remove the flowers before cooking, people often use them as a lovely garnish.