The osmanthus flowers we use in tea and for flavourings are as delicate, aromatic and distinctive as they are tiny.
The flowers - which range in colour from white to yellow gold - are usually sold dried at shops specialising in Chinese tea and herbs, but can also be found at Twins bakery-products stores (the branch in Wan Chai is at 1/F, 137 Johnston Road, tel: 8111 3090). They should be stored in an airtight jar in a cool place, preferably a refrigerator or freezer. Every month or so, open the jar to smell the flowers - if the scent has gone then so, too, has most of the flavour.
Osmanthus has a sweet, fruity/floral taste that is delicious in both savoury and sweet dishes. It's used to scent tea, rice wine, syrup and honey.
In Chinese cuisine, dishes called "osmanthus eggs" don't actually contain osmanthus - it just means the eggs are scrambled so finely that the curds are said to resemble the tiny flowers. In Shanghainese cuisine, osmanthus flowers flavour desserts such as home-made rice wine with glutinous rice flour dumplings, and fragrant jellies with wolfberry seeds. It's also good as a base for ice cream.