For most of history, blue has been a color rarely found in food. Artificial options aside, ceruleans typically show upas mold—a warning of spoilage we willingly heed (except in the case of blue cheese). And yet 2019 saw an explosion ofblue foods: protein milks, lattes, shakes (search “blue smoothie bowl” on Pinterest if you don’t believe us). This hue can come from spirulina, but it increasingly comes from butterfly pea flower, aka Clitoria ternatea, or Asian pigeon wings. This colorful creeping vine is usually found only in Thai, Malay, and Peranakan cuisine, but its appeal has recently gone viral.
“There seems to be a trend toward natural products and that must be allowing people to feel confident about ingesting blue products,” says Emeric Harney, of Harney & Sons Fine Teas. On top of brewing a cobalt cup of tea, butterfly pea flower can also camouflage according to its pH level: A few drops of lemon juice will turn a deep azure tea bright fuchsia.
The popularity of this chameleon ingredient is unsurprising in our social media age. After years of stark minimalism or aged rusticism, people want abundance, saturation, and vivacity. These vibrant shades don’t always mean explosive flavor—butterfly pea flower is mostly mild and malty, like an earthy twig tea. But it’s also playful and mood-lifting, so lean into these properties by pairing with evocative cheeses of equal flair.
With butterfly pea flower available in tea and powder forms, the food possibilities are vast. This is especially true of dairy, where pale opacity takes on color with ease. In the hands of restaurant chefs and bloggers, butterfly pea flower has found its way into soft cheeses, cheesecake, jelly, ice cream, yogurt, butter, and batter, all with highly ’grammable results. We recommend mixing it into dairy products (the milder and creamier, the better), or pairing with mild, mushroomy cheeses.
You won’t find a dull moment in the butterfly pea flower beverage–sphere. The ingredient lends itself to fairy tale combos, from pink rooibos latte stopped with blue whipped cream to lavender and lemon cocktails. In New South Wales, Australia, Husk Distillers include it in the botanical profile of their Ink Gin for a tipple worthy of the Blue Man Group. Butterfly pea flower is often mixed with citrus juice to activate its color-changing abilities—keep that tang in mind when pairing.