While visiting a Por Peang center in the Khon Kaen area, I had a delicious drink. It was a glass of Dok Unchun, Butterfly Pea, drink. This particular drink wasso refreshing with a sweetness from natural cane sugar and a twist of lime. All the ingredients for the drink was grown at the center, which was the rural farm of a retired 80 year old school teacher.
The Butterfly Pea is a climbing plant often used for its dye, as a food coloring and herbal remedy. It is thought to have originated in South America and Asia. It belongs to the sub-family Papilionaceae of the family Leguminosaeand is a perennial climber. With pinnatedleaves extending to five to nine leaflets, it often grows into a thick foliage. But the climber is commonly cultivated for its attractive azure flowers with winged petals and light markings. The flowers last 24 hours only. Its flat pods pops black seeds when mature.
In Thailand, the blue flowers are commonly used as dyes for colouring dessert or making herbal drinks. As a dye, it is popular amongst the health conscious who avoid using artificial dyes. Thais call the butterfly pea dok un chan and this flower is also used as a hair coloring, believing that the flowery will help make your hair black, healthy and silky. There is a belief that if the flower will help the hair grow thicker and darker.
Often when I walk through markets that emphasize traditional Thai lifestyle, I will see the sweet drink made from dok un chan. It is an infusion of the flower derived from boiling the flower and then removing the flower. What’s left is a purple-blue water that you can use as a dye or ingredient in food. In the case of the drink, the purple-blue infusion is combined with syrup and then served cold.