Growing up in a Penang peranakan family, we use this amazing butterfly pea flower for our nonya kiuh, such as pulut inti and pulut tai tai (surprisingly not many other kuih). So, I started to wonder why don’t we use green colouring from the pandan or red from roselle, or any other colour but blue?
I asked my relatives, but the answer they gave me was it has been like that since generations ago. Of course, no one is going to say you can’t use other colours like green, red, purple, orange or any colour, but if you do, you may lose the appeal of authenticity of this kuih.
There must be a reason why we use blue for this particular kuih. I was going to dwell into more research, but I have left it for the time being. I always believe in the benefits of our traditional food, as they were the food our ancestors grew up with. There must be a good reason why the food is still around after so long.
Our ancestors drew on the inspirations of the nature around them, through imagination, trial and error; they came up with various sumptuous and nutritious dishes that sustained them for generations. Right? Otherwise we would not been consuming them right now?
The Butterfly Pea Flower, otherwise known as Clitoria Ternate, is native to tropical Southeast Asia, like Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. The flowers are used widely for natural food colouring and its amazing health benefits.
In Penang where I grew up, we have Butterfly Blue Pea Flower growing everywhere in our neighbourhood. Most of our neighbours will have the flower growing along their fences or in pots.
How to get the blue colouring?
We pick the flowers and dry them under the sun. To get the blue colouring, add hot water to 4 to 5 dried flowers and let it sit for a few minutes for the flower to release its blue coloring.
How to use it?
Nowadays, on top of making kuih, people are now actively making bunga telang tea with the combination of lemongrass, peppermint leaves, pineapple, or they make blue coloured jelly, cake etc.
Some parents use it to demonstrate science experiments. For example, the more acidic the Butterfly Pea Flower drink (add lemon), the blue solution will turn pinkish. Some parents will use the natural colouring for children’s play dough.
The Butterfly Pea flower is an amazing gift from the nature, and is easily available in the tropics. Now, go and enjoy our ancestor’s heritage, especially the one that is passed down from many generations with the inspiration of nature.
Where to get the butterfly pea flowers and powder?
Grab your fresh food ingredients: