Cooking With Hops: Satisfy Beer Cravings With Hops Vine Flowers

hops and two mugs of beer
(Image credit: Gabi Musat / 500px / Getty Images)

When we think of hops, we think of beer"¦ and vines. The aromatic hops vine flowers give our favorite brews their unique and distinctive flavor. But beyond backyard beer crafting, are there additional uses for hops? For instance, can you eat hops? The answer is yes. As it turns out, cooking with hops is quite trendy and an excellent way to satisfy a beer craving without the alcohol!

Can You Eat Hops?

The buds of the Humulus lupulus plant have long been grown for the bitterness and flavor they impart to brewed beverages. During the brewing process, hops are added to the mash (mixture of grains) prior to boiling. Heat releases the innate bitterness of hops vine flowers. The longer the hop cones are boiled, the more bitter the beer.

To impart the distinctive flavor of hop flowers, more cones can be added near the end of the boiling process. Depending upon the variety, these flowers can impart a variety of aromatic flavorings, including citrus, mint, floral and lemon.

When cooking with hops, take a cue from the beer-making process. Culinary dishes that require a long, hot cooking time will take on the bitterness of hops. Whenever possible, reserve this ingredient until the end of the heating process. This will reduce bitterness and bring out the aromatic flavor of your hops plant. And as with any strongly fragrant plant, a little goes a long way.

Beyond the techniques for incorporating hops into recipes, the safety of consuming hop flowers should also be considered, just as a precaution. Hops contain a form of plant estrogen. High estrogen levels may disrupt the balance of hormones in men and cause concern for pregnant women. As an individual, questions such as "can you eat hops and in what quantity" are best answered by your physician.

Culinary Uses for Hops

Although some chefs add hops to dishes such as pizza and salads, consuming fresh hops is not for everyone. Hop cones are quite bitter-tasting and the texture is not highly palatable. Due to these undesirable qualities, culinary uses for hops remain a novelty.

Thus, many hops plant recipes begin with either an oil or vinegar infusion of fresh or dried cones. (Cold infusions will be less bitter and more aromatic than those prepared with heat.) A water-based syrup can also be made by boiling hops and sugar or hops-infused honey can be used in recipes. These latter two add a bittersweet complexity of flavor to foods. 

Once prepared, here are a few foods to which that hoppy, beer-like flavoring can be added:

  • Brownies
  • Bruschetta
  • Candy
  • Chicken marinade
  • Hot chocolate
  • Ice cream
  • Lemonade
  • Mustard
  • Sparkling water

So now that you know a little more about other ways to use hops vine flowers, why not save a few cones from your beer crafting harvest and try it out.

Laura Miller

Laura Miller has been gardening all her life. Holding a degree in Biology, Nutrition, and Agriculture, Laura's area of expertise is vegetables, herbs, and all things edible. She lives in Ohio.