With a splash of lemon juice, the natural pigments in butterfly pea tea transform from blue to purple — all while packing the beverage with health benefits. 

By Kirsten Nunez
June 10, 2021
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Looks aren't everything, but when it comes to butterfly pea tea - a magical, color-changing drink currently trending on TikTok - it's hard to not fall in love at first sight. The herbal tea, which is naturally bright blue, turns purple-violet-pink when you add a drizzle of lemon juice. The result? A colorful, ombre beverage that's a feast for your eyes.

butterfly-pea-flower-tea
Credit: Adobe Stock

If you've been hypnotized by the viral drink, you're not alone. So far, the hashtags #butterflypeatea and #butterflypeaflowertea have earned 13 and 6.7 million views on TikTok, respectively, and are filled with clips featuring color-shifting lemonades, cocktails, and even noodles. If you're looking for a fun, all-natural way to brighten up your food game, butterfly pea tea might be the answer. Curious about the trendy brew? Ahead, learn more about butterfly pea flower tea, plus how to use it at home.

What is Butterfly Pea Tea?

"Butterfly pea flower tea is a caffeine-free herbal tea made by steeping butterfly pea flowers in water," explains Jee Choe, tea sommelier and founder of Oh, How Civilized, a tea and food blog. "The blue flowers color and flavor the water, creating a 'blue tea'" that has a mild earthy, floral flavor akin to light green tea.

Despite its recent surge to TikTok fame, "butterfly pea flowers have been used for centuries in South East Asian countries, like Thailand and Vietnam, to make hot or iced herbal teas," shares Choe. Traditionally, the entire butterfly pea plant is used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, according to an article in the Journal of Pharmacological Reports, while its deep blue flowers are used to dye clothing and food. Butterfly pea flower is also a common ingredient in rice-based recipes, such as nasi kerabu in Malaysia and rice cakes in Singapore. In more recent years, the flower made its way into the cocktail world - where it's used to make blue gin - before landing in the TikTok spotlight as a trendy tea.

How Does Butterfly Pea Tea Change Color?

Butterfly pea flowers are rich in anthocyanins, which are antioxidants and natural pigments that give some plants (and produce, such as blueberries, red cabbage) a bluish purple-red color. Anthocyanins change shades depending on the acidity (measured as pH) of their environment, according to an article in the journal Food & Nutrition Research. When in water, which typically has a pH just above neutral, anthocyanins look blue. If you add an acid to the mixture, the pH decreases, causing the anthocyanins to develop a reddish tint and the overall mixture to appear purple. So, when you add acid (i.e. lemon or lime juice) to butterfly pea tea, it transforms from bright blue to a lovely purple, says Choe. The more acid you add, the more reddish it becomes, creating a violet-pink shade. Pretty cool, right? (Related: These Chai Tea Benefits Are Worth Switching Up Your Usual Coffee Order)

Butterfly Pea Flower Tea Benefits

Butterfly pea tea is more than just a drinkable mood ring. It also offers myriad nutrition benefits thanks to its anthocyanin content. As mentioned earlier, anthocyanins are antioxidants, which, ICYDK, prevent the development of chronic conditions (i.e. heart disease, cancer, diabetes) by removing free radicals and, in turn, protect the body against oxidative stress.

The anthocyanins in butterfly pea tea might also help reduce high blood sugar and, in turn, lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Anthocyanins increase the production of insulin, aka the hormone that shuttles blood sugar into your cells, according to a 2018 scientific review. This regulates your blood sugar, thus preventing high levels that can increase your chances of developing certain diseases such as diabetes.

Anthocyanins may protect your heart, too. Research suggests these powerful pigments can reduce the elasticity of your arteries, a factor called arterial stiffness, according to adds registered dietitian Megan Byrd, R.D., founder of The Oregon Dietitian. Here's why that matters: The stiffer your arteries, the harder it is for blood to flow through them, increasing force and, in turn, causing high blood pressure - a major risk factor of heart disease. Anthocyanins also decrease inflammation, which can contribute to heart disease over time, adds Byrd. (Related: The Floral Iced Tea Recipes You'll Want to Sip (and Spike) All Summer)

How to Use Butterfly Pea Flower Tea

Ready to try this beautiful blue brew? Head over to your local tea shop or specialty health food store to pick up some dried butterfly pea flowers. You can find loose leaf options - i.e. WanichCraft Butterfly Pea Flower Tea (Buy It, $15, amazon.com) - or tea bags - i.e. Khwan's Tea Pure Butterfly Pea Flower Tea Bags (Buy It, $14, amazon.com). The tea is also available in blends, such as Harney & Sons Indigo Punch (Buy It, $15, amazon.com), which includes butterfly pea flowers plus ingredients such as dried apple pieces, lemongrass, and rose hips. And, no, these added ingredients do not inhibit the color-shifting effects. "As long as butterfly pea flowers are in a tea blend, the tea will change color," confirms Choe.

Not a tea drinker? No problem. You can still try out the magic of butterfly pea flower tea by blending its powdered form - i.e. Suncore Foods Blue Butterfly Pea Supercolor Powder (Buy It, $19, amazon.com) - into your go-to smoothie recipe. Similarly, "the color will depend on the pH balance, so if an acid isn't introduced to the food, it'll stay blue," explains Choe.

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On that note, there are so many ways to reap the benefits of blue butterfly pea flower tea and powder. Here are a few ideas for using this color-changing ingredient:

As a tea. To make one drink, combine two to four dried butterfly pea flowers and hot water in a 16-ounce glass mason jar, says Hilary Pereira, mixologist and founder of SPLASH Cocktail Mixers. Steep for five to 10 minutes, strain out the flowers, then add a splash or two of lemon juice for some color-changing magic. (You can also sweeten it with maple syrup or sugar if you'd like.) Craving an iced tea? Let the mixture cool completely, remove the flowers, and add ice cubes.

In cocktails. Instead of drinking butterfly pea-infused water as tea, use the ingredient to make a bar-quality cocktail. Pereira suggests adding 2 ounces vodka, 1 ounce fresh lemon juice, and simple syrup (to taste) in an ice-filled wine glass. Stir well, add the cooled butterfly pea water (using the method above), and watch the colors change before your eyes.

In lemonade. If lemonade is more your style, make a serving of iced butterfly pea tea, then add the juice of one large lemon and sweeteners (if you'd like). The extra acidity will create a violet-pink beverage that's almost too pretty to drink - almost.

With noodles. Make a stunning batch of color-changing glass noodles (aka cellophane noodles) by cooking them in butterfly pea flower-infused water. Add a squirt of lemon juice to turn them from blue to violet-pink. Try this cellophane noodle bowl recipe by Love & Olive Oil.

With rice. Similarly, this blue coconut rice by Lily Morello uses butterfly pea tea as a natural food dye. How's that for a 'gram-worthy lunch?

In chia pudding. For a mermaid-inspired snack, stir 1 to 2 teaspoons of butterfly pea powder into chia pudding. Top it off with coconut flakes, berries, and a drizzle of honey to sweeten things up.