If you’ve ever been to Southeast Asia, you’ve certainly seen some blue coloured foods and perhaps wondered what’s with the use of all the artificial blue colouring?! You probably wouldn’t have guessed that it’s actually all natural! The colour comes from a flower called the Clitoria ternatea (take a look at the flower and you can probably guess why it was given this scientific name!), or more commonly known as the butterfly pea or blue pea flower.
It’s used in various Southeast Asian cuisines, such as Thai and Burmese. But I’m most familiar with its use in Malaysia, where the flower is called bunga telang. The colour is extracted from the flowers and used to make traditional kuih (snacks or desserts) such as pulut tai tai, pulut inti, nyonya rice dumplings, and in rice dishes like nasi kerabu.
When I was in Malaysia earlier this year, I was going to buy fresh butterfly pea flowers from the market and dry them myself to bring back, but I didn’t get around to doing that. So it was a nice surprise when my mum brought back a container of dried flowers for me recently! I don’t think you’d be able to buy them anywhere here, really, except online.
I’ve never heard of butterfly pea flowers being used for anything outside of Southeast Asia, but recently I actually came across a few posts on Instagram showing pictures of exotic-looking blue/purple cocktails being served in bars here and in the U.S. (and no, it wasn’t Blue Curacao). I’ve also seen quite a few blog posts on how to make blue caffeine-free herbal tea. Aside from being a powerful antioxidant, there’s apparently a whole host of other health benefits. I guess word is spreading about this gift from Mother Nature!
I’ve had butterfly pea flower iced tea in Malaysia, which is really refreshing in the tropical heat. Now that we’re having a heat wave here, I decided to use the flowers that I just got, and make this drink. The tea is actually a deep indigo hue. But when lemon juice is added, the pH balance changes, and it turns purple! Cool, huh?! It’s such a pretty drink and the best thirst quencher in hot weather!
BUTTERFLY PEA FLOWER ICED TEA (Makes 3 cups)
3 cups of water
a small handful (or about 20) of dried butterfly pea flowers
4 Tbsp honey, or to taste
1 lemon, cut into 6 wedges (for juice and garnish)
1. Place the water in a small pot and bring to a boil, then remove from heat.
2. Stir in dried flowers, cover, and let it steep for at least 10-15 minutes (you can leave them in longer, if you like). Remove and discard the flowers.
3. Set aside the tea to cool. Stir in honey and mix well.
4. Pour into glasses, add in ice cubes, and garnish with lemon wedges. Add in a squeeze of lemon.