Hop flowers are primarily used to preserve and flavor beer. Now that hops are starting to ripen in the northern hemisphere, I'm wondering: are there any other uses for them in the kitchen?
You can use them to flavor other foods. I've seen cakes and other sweets made with hop flowers. You will probably want a low alpha-acid variety(alpha acid makes the bitter flavor), but both could be interesting.
To use, you could dry the flowers and mill to a fine powder. This can then be incorporated directly into food. I think they could be used similarly to how matcha powder is incorporated into recipes once ground.
You can also use the 'sludge' left over from brewing (mix of hop flowers and yeast and barley bits) as an ingredient in bread, which gives a very interesting flavor. Hops alone would probably add a similar flavor.
I've heard you can cook and serve the young shoots (just a few inches long) much as you would asparagus.
Has anyone actually done this?
Infuse into oil for salad dressings
Some answers already mention Bittering, Preserving, and Flavor, but don't forget:
To expound on this, if you're adding for aroma, you should add at the very end of the "heating/cooking" process. This is because the essential oils of the hop will not have enough time to significantly dissolve into whatever it is you are cooking if you add it at the end. (eg. last 5 minutes.) Thus the oil scent is free to be released into the air when you smell whatever it is you are making.
If you add hops to something that's simmering/boiling and the hops are in the mix for more than 15 or 20 minutes, those essential oils dissolve into the liquid and become more of a flavoring/bittering agent, rather than aromatic.
Why is Aroma important?
Well, what you smell is complimentary to what you taste. The two enhance each other in the eating experience.
You'll have to experiment with hops, but one of my favorite hops is Amarillo. It has a very floral fragrance.
Since Pork Loin goes great with rosemary (evergreen, woody) maybe a rosemary roasted pork loin with a citrus pan sauce then at the end add a chiffonade of some piny hops like northern to the sauce to help embellish the rosemary and maybe even add a little cascade hops to emphasizes the citrus in the sauce. There are tons of different ways hops could be used for cooking. In a Cheddar Ale soup? tie some of whatever hops are in the ale up in a cheese cloth with other fresh herbs and add at the last five or ten minutes of cooking to give it an AMAZING aroma