Also called “cassia buds” and less frequently “honey laurel” and “sweet olive” in English, these are the delicate, five-petaled yellow flowers—the dried, unripe fruits—of the cassia tree. Highly aromatic and possessed of a flavor that is simultaneously salty and sweet tasting on the tongue, they are a feature of refined Chinese sweets. Cecelia Chiang, in her fascinating autobiography The Mandarin Way recalls that her father had Cognac-steeped cassia blossoms added to his tobacco. Culinary uses are equally lyric.
The very best way to buy these flowers is preserved in a thick, sugary jam, which coats them like honey in clusters. Cassia Blossom Jam (桂花酱 mandarin: gway-hwa-jyang; Cantonese: gwai-fa-jyeung) will keep indefinitely under refrigeration, unlike the blossoms packed in bottles of sugar water, which tend to ferment. If you buy the water-packed variety, look for bubbles in the jar, which could indicate fermentation. Both varieties are found in the refrigerator case of the grocery and should be refrigerated at home.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.