Blue & Purple
What is that flower behind your ear? นั้นดอกอะไรอยู่หลังใบหูของคุณ. In a Thai village, the answer might be that it is a jasmine, hibiscus or butterfly pea flower. You often see women or men in Thai villages wearing flowers behind their ears on special occasions. For me personally, my answer would be that it is a blue butterfly pea flower.
In addition to wearing a blue butterfly pea flower – ดอกอัญชัน (dok anchan) or Clitoria ternatea – behind my ear while working in my garden, I would like to introduce you to its properties as a Thai culinary flower. Butterfly pea is an annual vine that is native to the land in southeast Asia near the equator. Thais love dok anchan for it beautiful unique looks and for its culinary uses as a food coloring and as an edible flower. My friend Somrak uses dok anchan in her Thai cooking at home, shredding it into a fine ribbon and adding it to rice salad, or for making a tea, or adding blue color extract to steamed jasmine rice. Many hotels in Thailand greet guests with a welcome drink made from dok anchan. But above and beyond all of these uses, our ancestors recognized it for its medicinal benefits, which include its anti-depression, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties. The blue concentrate added to hair products also promotes healthy hair growth (please see related links below).
In Thailand I grew butterfly pea plants on a trellis, but often enjoyed the harvest from friends’ gardens. In the Thai village lifestyle in the old days we shared or exchanged our surpluses with one another. The vines can produce many flowers a day, so often they went unused. This meant that at any moment there were always flowers waiting for you in someone’s garden and we helped ourselves when needed. The pigment in the flowers comes from anthocyanins, and has long been widely used in Thai and Malaysian cuisines for blue or purple food coloring for butterfly pea sticky rice. In Thailand, any foods prepared with shades of blue, purple or pink come from dok anchan. In addition, southeast Asia uses the flowers in traditional Ayurvedic medicine.
Where can you get dried butterfly pea flowers? In the U.S. you can mail-order homegrown organic air-dried butterfly pea flowers from Etsy.com and Alibaba.com. If you wish to plant them next summer for your backyard vine, this may be the right time to purchase them. Check online for a few sources where you can purchase butterfly pea seeds. Thompson & Morgan has the seeds for Butterfly Pea Fabaceae
Khanom Chan – ขนมชั้น – Thai one-layer cake with anchan flower food coloring gets pale purple when cooked.
Chaw Muang – ช่อม่วง, steamed dumpling, a famous Thai appetizer ใช้สีทำขนมช่อม่วง, ขนมดอกอัญชัญ
Chaw Muang is a traditional Thai snack that can have a sweet or savory filling. After preparing a butterfly pea purple water infusion, the water is added to the dough according to the amount required in the recipe.
Step-By-Step Instructions for Making Blue and Purple Butterfly Pea Color Extracts
Nam dok anchan (น้ำดอกอัญชัน)
First, steep 12 dried or fresh butterfly flowers in 1 cup boiling water.
Fifteen minutes later, or when no color is left in the petal, strain the liquid and discard the flowers. You will get deep blue water.
Add a few drops of lime juice. This will change the ph level and you will get purple water.
I made butterfly pea simple syrup a day before my dinner party in order to make my signature Tom Yum Martini. A friend requests that I make them each year when I visit home.