All recipes are for 2 servings unless noted. Oil is canola oil and salt is kosher salt.


Benibana / koka / hong hua / safflower petals

Petals of Carthamus tinctorius

The petals are extremely fine, and soaking in cold or warm water immediately releases an orange-yellow color; rehydration does not take more than a few minutes. They taste faintly bitter, sharing the trait of chrysanthemum, as the plant belongs to asteraceae, the same family as chrysanthemum.

The orange-yellow color resembles that of saffron. The color comes from soluble safflor yellow  (99% of petal pigments). The plant has long been known as an ingredient for red dye. Where does it come from? The plant also contains a tiny amount (1%) of a substance called carthamin, which historically was used in clothing for mummies in ancient Egypt beginning in 2500 BC. The plant arrived in Japan via the Silk Road (historical trading route connecting Mediterranean countries and Japan) and China in the 4th-6th century. In Japan, the red color from this plant is probably best known for its traditional use in lipstick. 

Koka (or kooka) is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese characters for benibana, or hong hua in Chinese. Koka refers to the dried flower petals, especially in the herbal medicinal world.  The petals promote blood circulation, relieve blood stasis, alleviate pain, and warm up your body. Benibana is commonly used for regulating menstruation and easing menopause symptoms.

Dried benibana flower petals are available at Chinese herbal medicine shops and Mexican grocery stores in our area (Seattle/Poulsbo).

Recipes with benibana

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