Today’s recipe is a magic one! Christmas time, the season of Santa Claus and fairies and unicorns and secret gifts and all that, eh? 🙂
Now, this is a simple lemonade recipe at heart, but a magical, colour-changing one! When served, this drink is a pretty, deep blue. Squeeze some lemon into it, and it changes colour to a gorgeous purple! Let me hasten to add that this happens very naturally, without the help of any artificial colouring agents. The secret ingredient here is butterfly pea, a beautiful blue flower that grows in several Asian countries, including parts of India.
Also called Shankapushpam, blue pea, cordofan pea, Asian pigeonwings, bluebellvine, Darwin pea and Aparajita, the scientific name of the butterfly pea is Clitoria Ternatia. The blue flower is used as a natural food colouring in several parts of Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia and Burma. Adding a few of these flowers while cooking infuses the dish in question with a lovely blue colour – it is, actually, quite difficult to believe that such a brilliant blue colour can be achieved in food this naturally, without any chemical involvement at all! The colour of the food further changes to purple or pink, depending upon what ingredients have been added to it.
So, how does this colour-changing happen? It is simple science. Butterfly pea flowers contain a high concentration of something called anthocyanin, a pigment whose colour depends upon the amount of acidity present in its environment. When added to plain water, the pigment makes the water blue. Add something acidic to the water – like lemon – and when the pH level changes, it turns purple. When the acidity increases further – say, the addition of more lemon – the water turns a pretty magenta or pink.
Thanks to being rich in antioxidants, the butterfly pea flower aids in relieving stress, improving blood circulation, bettering eye health, and nourishing one’s skin and hair. This is precisely why the flower is widely used in South Asian countries in various food products as well as skin- and hair-care products.
I was introduced to these flowers for the first-ever time on our recent holiday in Thailand, in our hotel spa. I dropped in to the spa for a massage, and was served a warm blue-coloured tea with a wedge of lemon on the side. I was stunned to see the tea turn purple with the addition of the lemon, and wondered why on earth would they be using something so artificially coloured in a spa that claimed to use only traditional Thai methods and natural ways of healing! It was much later that I came to know that what I was offered was, in fact, Butterfly Pea Tea and that the blue was entirely natural. I had to pick up a packet of dried butterfly pea flowers in a Thai departmental store to get back home (very reasonably priced, I must add) – and good I did that too, for they cost an arm and a leg online!
On its own, the butterfly pea extract does not taste like much. It has a mild woody taste, not unlike green tea. I am not particularly fond of that, but when mixed with something else – like rice or lemonade, for instance – the woody taste gets masked by the other ingredients. This Butterfly Pea Lemonade tastes just like regular lemonade, but is much more healthier thanks to the addition of the flowers. The colour-changing property of this lemonade makes it a perfect drink for parties – especially Christmas parties. Instead of pre-mixing it, serve it with some lemon on the side, and watch your guests’ mouths open with wonder as they see their drink change colour! Just imagine how much kids will love this – mine did, to bits!
Enough said. This wondrous flower needed this long-winded introduction. Now, without further ado, let us check out the proceedure to make this Butterfly Pea Lemonade.
Ingredients (serves 4-6):
- 1 tablespoon dried butterfly pea flowers
- 3 cups of water, at room temperature
- 6 tablespoons of sugar, or as needed
- Lemon halves, as needed
- Chilled water, as needed
- Heat the 3 cups of water on high flame, till it comes to a rolling boil.
- Add the sugar to the boiling water, and mix well. It will dissolve immediately. Let the water boil for a minute, then switch off gas.
- Add the dried butterfly pea flowers to the hot water. Close the pan with a lid, and let the flowers steep in the hot water for 20-30 minutes. By this time, the dried flowers would have let out their colour into the water, which would have turned a bright blue.
- Strain out the flowers from the water (you can choose to keep them in, too!). Allow the blue extract to cool down completely.
- When you are ready to serve the Butterfly Pea Lemonade, fill up as much of the blue extract as you need in serving glasses. Add some plain chilled water to the glasses, as needed. Taste and adjust quantities. Serve the glasses with lemon halves on the side.
- For those of you who are interested, I picked up the dried butterfly pea flowers at Big C, a departmental store in Pattaya. The store stocks most traditional and contemporary Thai products, priced quite reasonably.
- If you are planning a visit to Thailand or have a friend or relative flying in, dried butterfly pea flowers are something you could ask them to get you. They are also available online, on websites like Amazon, but they are heavily priced.
- I haven’t worked with fresh butterfly pea flowers in my kitchen, so I’m not sure how they need to be used. If you have access to them, you may try using them instead, in this Butterfly Pea Lemonade recipe.
- In Thailand, these flowers are used in rice-based dishes, cocktails and mocktails, bakery goodies, ice creams and patties, among other things. I have not yet tried any of these things out, but I am simply amazed at the world of culinary possibilities these little butterfly pea flowers have opened up for me.
- You may use a healthy sweetener – like palm jaggery, coconut sugar or honey – in this lemonade recipe, instead of refined sugar, too. However, I am not sure how that would alter the pH level of the lemonade, and alter its colour.
Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!
This recipe is for the Foodie Monday Blog Hop. The theme for this week is #FlowersAndFruits, wherein members are cooking recipes using fresh or dried flowers and/or fruits. I chose to make this Butterfly Pea Lemonade for the theme.