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Torch Ginger Flowers
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Torch Ginger flowers are buds growing on the end of tall, straight stalks attached to underground rhizomes. The green, fleshy stalks can grow up to one meter in height, and the buds typically average ten centimeters in length. When young, Torch Ginger flowers are tightly closed, forming a flame-like shape, and range in color from pink, red, to white. The buds are comprised of oval and waxy, petal-like layers known as bracts, which are protective, modified leaf coverings that encase the developing petals. As the flower blooms, the bracts will be opened, revealing small flower petals. Torch Ginger flowers are consumed when the buds are somewhat closed and have a crisp, succulent, and lightweight texture. The aromatic bracts also have a sweet and sour, piquant flavor with citrus-forward notes.
Torch Ginger flowers are available year-round in tropical climates, with a peak season in the late spring through early summer.
Torch Ginger flowers, botanically classified as Etlingera elatior, are brightly colored, aromatic buds belonging to the Zingiberaceae or ginger family. The tropical plants are native to Southeast Asia and have been used for centuries as an ornamental, medicinal, and culinary variety. There are three main colors of Torch Ginger flowers, pink, red, and white, with pink being the most common in markets. Torch Ginger flowers earned their name from their elongated, curved shape similar to a flaming torch, and are known by many regional names, including Wax Flowers, Ginger Flower, Torch Lily, Indonesian Tall Ginger, and Porcelain Rose. In the modern-day, Torch Ginger flowers are widely incorporated as a flavoring in Southeast Asian seafood dishes, and the entire plant, including the seeds, flowers, and leaves are edible. Torch Ginger plants are also one of the most commercialized varieties sold as a tropical ornamental for landscaping and are popularly used in large, decorative flower arrangements.
Torch Ginger flowers are a good source of fiber to stimulate the digestive tract and contain antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties to boost the immune system. The buds also provide antioxidants such as vitamin C to protect the body against external aggressors and contain some magnesium, vitamin K, and calcium.
Torch Ginger flowers are best used fresh and are utilized as a garnish or flavoring. The flowers can be thinly sliced and tossed into salads, shredded and blended into dips and sauces, or used whole as a food wrap. Torch Ginger flowers are also traditionally incorporated into seafood dishes, stirred into stews, soups, curries, rice, and noodle dishes, or they are chopped and mixed into rojak, a spicy fruit and vegetable salad. Beyond traditional uses, Torch Ginger flowers are being used in modern, unconventional applications to showcase the bud’s sour flavor in dishes such as sorbets and ice cream. The flowers are also being infused into cocktails, and essential oils are extracted from the buds as an ingredient for tea. Torch Ginger flowers pair well with spices such as turmeric, coriander, chile powder, and salt, aromatics such as lemongrass, galangal, and garlic, seafood, meats such as beef, poultry, or smoked duck, cucumber, bell peppers, butterfly pea flowers, and fruits such as mango, coconut, pineapple, and citrus. The flowers should be used immediately for the best quality and flavor and will keep up to one week when wrapped in paper towels and stored in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Torch Ginger flowers can also be frozen or dried for extended use.
Torch Ginger flowers are known as Bunga Kantan in Malaysia and are one of the representative ingredients in Malaysian gastronomy. The buds have a citrus-forward flavor used to mask sour, fishy notes in seafood dishes, and when in season, Torch Ginger flowers are widely found in fresh markets. Many families also forage the brightly colored buds as the plant grows naturally in Malaysian jungles and forests. Within Malaysian cuisine, several cooking styles blend ingredients and traditions from regions across Asia. Nyonya cuisine is a combination of Chinese and Indo-Malay cooking that is known for using Torch Ginger flowers. Dishes associated with Nyonya cuisine traditionally have aromatic, tangy, salty, spicy, and sweet qualities, and one of the most famous Nyonya dishes is assam laksa, a pungent fish stew. Assam laksa is frequently associated with the area of Penang and is a spicy, sour noodle dish comprised of fish, aromatics, Torch Ginger flowers, chile peppers, cucumbers, calamansi, and shallots. In assam laksa, Torch Ginger flowers are prized for reducing the stew's fish-like qualities and are valued as a truly local ingredient.
Torch Ginger flowers are native to tropical regions of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Southern Thailand and have been growing wild since ancient times. The plants are easily propagated and were quickly spread throughout Southeast Asia, China, Oceania, and Australia. Torch Ginger flowers were also introduced to Hawaii, Florida, and South America as a cultivated tropical species and are used for ornamental landscaping. Today Torch Ginger flowers can be found worldwide, both cultivated and wild, and are present in Southeast Asia, Eastern Asia, Australia, Oceania, Polynesia, Africa, South America, Central America, and in Florida, California, and Hawaii of the United States. In Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and China, the species has also been deemed an aggressive invasive species. When in season, the Torch Ginger flower buds can be found through specialty growers or local fresh markets.
Recipes that include Torch Ginger Flowers. One is easiest, three is harder.