What Are Dried Lily Buds?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Dried lily buds

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Dried lily buds, also known as gum jum choi, “golden needles,” and “tiger lilies,” are among the most notable of edible flowers in Chinese cuisine. Dried lily buds are the unopened flowers of the daylily plant (Hemerocallis fulva), which has been used in China as both a food and a medicinal plant for over 2,000 years. In Chinese culture, the dried flowers symbolize wealth during the Lunar New Year. In terms of cooking, the buds are added to recipes for their woody flavor and scent. The buds are also used in Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisines.

Fast Facts

  • Also known as: golden needles
  • Place of origin: China
  • Flavor and aroma: musky and flowery

What Are Dried Lily Buds?

Called huang hua in Chinese, which translates to "yellow flower," lily buds are typically yellow-gold in color. They are picked before they open and are about 3 to 5 inches long. When they are dried, however, they take on a light brown hue and are generally 2 to 3 inches long with the texture and shape of a crinkled straw. More often than not, dried lily buds are used in cooking for their unique aroma, which is somewhat fruity and flowery. They have to be rehydrated before being added to recipes and generally have a chewy but slightly crunchy texture. Dried lily buds are are very inexpensive.

Dried Lily Buds Uses

As the buds are most often purchased dried (fresh are only available in China), like many other similar Chinese vegetables and ingredients, they need to be rehydrated in water before using. First, rinse off the buds to remove any dirt. Then, put in a large bowl and cover with boiling water (some cooks recommend soaking them in cool or warm water); a handful of dried lily buds will need between 2 and 3 cups of water. Leave the buds to sit for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours, until they have softened. Drain (saving the liquid to use as vegetable broth, if desired) and rinse. Finally, remove the hard stem or knob by using a paring knife to cut off about 1/4 inch at the bottom of the bud.

As per the recipe you are using, the dried lily buds can be left whole, which is a nice presentation, or cut in half crosswise. Some recipes call for the buds to be cut in half and hand shredded, meaning you pull them apart with your fingers. For a better appearance and an interesting texture, tie them in a knot; this will also prevent the buds from falling apart in the dish. 

How to Cook Dried Lily Buds

In many recipes, such as moo shu pork, noodle dishes, and dumplings, the reconstituted dried lily buds are stir-fried along with other vegetables. When added to a soup, they still need to be rehydrated first and then are boiled and simmered in the soup broth.

What Do They Taste Like?

Dried lily buds have a delicate flavor that is musky and earthy. The taste is also described as sweet or slightly tart.

Dried Lily Bud Recipes

Dried lily buds are an ingredient in many authentic, well-known Chinese recipes, both as a vegetable of sorts and as a garnish. You will also find them in boiled potstickers (shwei jow), Chinese New Year noodles, and shao mai, open-faced steamed dumplings.

Where to Buy Dried Lily Buds

Dried lily buds can be found in most Asian markets, particularly Chinese, as well as online. They are available in small 4- to 8-ounce cellophane bags. When purchasing dried lily buds, look for those that are pale in color—freshly dried lily buds should be light brown and flexible. If they are dark brown or they crumble, don’t buy them as they are past their prime.

Storage

At home, store dried lily buds in a sealed jar in a dark, cool, and dry place. If packaged properly, they should last indefinitely.

Nutrition and Benefits

In traditional Chinese medicine, dried lily buds are thought to help with insomnia, treat anxiety, and alleviate a cough. The buds are also known to promote healthy brain function and assist in blood clotting. Dried lily buds are a good source of vitamin C and potassium, as well as magnesium, copper, and manganese.