It is no coincidence that it is nicknamed boreal vanilla. It has round and sweet aromas, with the clear advantage, which we finally discover, which is to grow in Quebec. Sweet clover is proof that our land is full of flavors that have nothing to envy to those from afar!

This slender plant, also called “sweet clover”, rocks in the wind almost everywhere in Quebec on vacant lots and roadsides. In its tiny flowers, grouped in spikes, is concentrated a bewitching scent of coumarin, a substance very similar to that of vanillin, which is also found in the tonka bean.

Sweet clover blooms in mid-July in southern Quebec and can bloom a second time in September, when its seeds have dispersed to create new plants that bloom in turn. While there are white and yellow, the former is more common and is usually found in commercial products.

“It’s a fabulous plant because its fragrance is extraordinary, but also because it’s one of the products that have quickly carved out a place for themselves in pantries and that are helping to democratize forest products. For people who are intimidated by wild cuisine, it’s a great gateway,” says Ariane Paré-Le Gal, whose company, Gourmet Sauvage, was among the first to promote this plant in Quebec. .

Already used in perfumery in Europe and by the First Nations in Quebec, sweet clover remained little known in our repertoire of wild edible plants until very recently. Six years ago, the idea of ​​working with it appeared at Gourmet Sauvage.

During the 10 days of sweet clover blooming, this small forestry company is in a race against time, picking, drying, sorting with tweezers and infusing thousands of sweet clover flowers no bigger than the tip of a pencil . To achieve as pure a result as possible, the flowers must be carefully separated from the greenery which dilutes the flavors and adds a hint of bitterness to them. This step influences not only the price, but also the quality of the product.

As the sweet clover begins to turn white in the fields, it is picked as one would blueberries. The flower is gently pinched, ideally on the spot since the flowering period is spread over two weeks and other flowers will soon seek to open, advises Ariane Paré-Le Gal. Otherwise, no more than a third of the plants are harvested to leave some for pollinators and ensure reproduction.

Sweet clover flowers can be eaten fresh, but it is once they are dried that their flavors increase tenfold and develop a vanilla aroma to which are added scents of honey, almond and fresh hay. “It’s a substitute for vanilla and that’s its main interest, but at the same time, there is a different complexity: it’s an assertive flavor, but softer and more floral than vanilla”, describes Émile Tremblay , chef and owner of Faux Bergers and Buvette Gentille, in Baie-Saint-Paul.

Its aromatic range pairs well with fruity or creamy desserts such as panna cotta. But sweet clover will blend with all preparations that invite a hint of vanilla: a cocktail, a coffee, a meringue, pancakes, French toast… unless you harmonize it with shellfish and white fish for an unusual pairing . Lobster with bisque or “vanilla” butter is a classic.

Purchased dried, the flowers can be made into an herbal tea or be cold infused for two or three days to extract the fragrances, before removing them through a sieve. In powder form, they are incorporated into the dry ingredients of a preparation, unless they are sprinkled on the finish like icing sugar. However, it is in the form of liquid essence, in the same proportions as vanilla extract, that sweet clover is easiest to use – especially for concocting delicious cocktails.

“You can very well make your own dye,” suggests chef François-Emmanuel Nicol, co-owner of La Tanière⁠3 in Quebec City, recently named Restaurant of the Year at the Lauriers de la Gastronomie. We simply macerate the sweet clover in a neutral alcohol such as vodka (in a ratio of 15%), for a month in the dark. »

Made with Quebec sea buckthorn flavored gin, apple juice and Amermelade, this cocktail sprayed with sweet clover, concocted by Simon Faucher, mixologist at La Tanière⁠3 restaurant in Quebec City, is a joyous mix of local flavors.

The other’s little brother in an alcohol-free version. The preparation is the same as for the cocktail with alcohol.

Bring the water to a boil and add the sugar to dissolve it well. Add the other ingredients and let stand for 24 hours in the fridge. Filter.