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Spices Unearthed: Torch Ginger Flower (Bunga Kantan)

what is torch ginger flower plant or bunga kantan?

Not all spice decisions are easy, especially when you're looking down at the large pinkish bud of a torch ginger flower (Etlingera elatior) -

1. Do you kneel down and run your fingers over the waxy outer petals, imagining the explosion of pink colors building up inside; lean in and smell the essence of the tropics with its sweet floral fragrance and a faint hint of ginger; close your eyes and wish that the moment you open them, you are blinded by the bloom of the most majestic pink flower in the world?


2. Do you just snip off the bud and take it back to your kitchen?

Probably best to plant two.

what does torch ginger flower look like, taste like, smell like?

Shooting straight up from the ground and topped with layers of fiery bright pink, red or white petals, the tropical perennial plant - part of the ginger family - shares a close resemblance to a flaming torch. Hence the name - Torch Ginger Flower.

Mesmerizing spectators with its striking appearance only reveals half of its beauty. The other half can be found in the exotic, sweet, flowery, piquant flavor of the waxy flower bud, which is high in antioxidants and antibacterial properties. When the bud is thinly sliced or shredded, it becomes a spice in many salads, sauces, and dips throughout its native home of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia.

In Malaysia - where the spice is called bunga kantan - it is an indispensable ingredient in Malay and Nyonya (Chinese-Malay) cuisine, where the buds are used to zest up curries and seafood stews. The fresh spice has the power to mask strong fishy tastes, as it does in the famous Penang asam laksa - a soury fish stew with a complex balance of flavors. In Singapore, the buds are called Rojak Flowers because of their use in fruit rojak - a popular spicy fruit and vegetable salad dish.

But whatever you call this exotic flower - Torch Ginger, Ginger Flower, Red Ginger Lily, Torch Lily, Wild Ginger, Rojak Flowers, Combrang, Bunga Siantan, Philippine Wax Flower, Xiang Bao Jiaing, Indonesian Tall Ginger, Boca de Dragón, Bunga Kantan, Rose de Porcelaine, Porcelain Rose, Daalaa, Bunga Kecombrang, or Honje - just remember to plant two.

torch ginger flower or bunga kantan malaysia

Or maybe three if you want a relaxing, herbal bath at home, scented with the tropical spice of torch ginger.

For a taste with torch ginger flower, try one of these recipes:
fried chicken with bunga kantan
mango kerabu salad
Green Mango Kerabu Salad - Season with Spice
indonesia sambal bongkot recipe with kecombrang honje ginger flower recipe
Sambal Bongkot - Cooking Tackle
penang best authentic asam laksa recipe torch ginger spice
Penang Asam Laksa - Season with Spice
penang best asam laksa mango kerabu salad with ginger flower recipe
Asam Laksa Mango Kerabu Salad - Season with Spice
kerabu meehoon recipe with bunga kantan spice
Malaysian Kerabu Bee Hoon - Season with Spice


Anukriti S said...

Wow! such a pretty flower. This is the first time I have heard of it. Wonder if is available here in New York.

seasonwithspice said...

Quick facts on where you can find torch ginger flower: Aside from its native countries, the flowers can also be found in tropical places such as Hawaii, Florida, and Central America. Apparently, Northern Austalia is now the largest producer for Torch Ginger Flower after they discovered its use in aromatherapy in recent years.

seasonwithspice said...

Hi Anukriti, too bad we don't have an image of a fully bloomed torch ginger flower to show. When we do, we will put it up on this article. The color is amazing.

They might be available in New York since they probably find their way up from Florida.

jo said...

Yup, bunga kantan is indispensable in Malaysia especially if you are making kerabu or rojak. Lovely clicks.

Biren @ Roti n Rice said...

I really miss this. I've not seen or eaten it in years. Haven't found or thought of a substitution for it either :(

seasonwithspice said...

Thanks Jo. Love kerabu with bunga kantan..

seasonwithspice said...

I can understand how you feel, Biren. I missed making salad with bunga kantan when I was living outside of Malaysia too. There is really no substitution to its exotic taste. A good reason for you to visit Malaysia soon?:)

Cookingtackle said...

one of my fav torch :) best smell in the world!

seasonwithspice said...

Hi Anukriti, too bad we don't have an image of a fully bloomed torch ginger flower to show. When we do, we will put it up on this article. The color is amazing.

They might be available in New York (maybe Chinatown?) since torch ginger flower grows in Florida. However, there are over 70 species of torch ginger flower, so not sure if it's the same one.

Indonesia Eats said...

I envy you. I want to get this bunga kecombrang aka rias aka kincung that is what we call to complete my North Sumatra dishes such as arsik, gulai daun ubi tumbuk etc

seasonwithspice said...

so many different names for torch ginger in Indonesia?:) Would love to see the complete dishes of arsik and gulai daun ubi tumbuk from you some day..

Indonesia Eats said...

LOL. Depend on the dialects. There are two other terms, honje in Sundanese (West Java) and bongkot in Balinese.

I'll do the post of arsik recipein the future but I have the recipe for gulai daun ubi tumbuk. This torch ginger flower is added into anyang too in North Sumatra. But my anyang recipe uses fiddlehead instead.

Gulai Ubi Tumbuk - http://indonesiaeats.com/gulai-daun-ubi-tumbuk-mandailing-recipe-crushed-cassava-leaves-curry/

Anyang Pakis - http://indonesiaeats.com/anyang-pakis-north-sumatran-fiddleheads-spicy-grated-coconut/

I'd like to know how you plant torch ginger in the US?

seasonwithspice said...

I'd love to try the gulai ubi tumbuk! Really scrumptious recipe.

Torch ginger is a tropical flower, so it's probably going to grow in Florida or Hawaii. They do have ginger flower in Florida or Hawaii, but we are unsure if it's the same species since there are over 70 varieties.

Indonesia Eats said...

I should check the nurseries here. They might have it in their green house. Btw, I'm able to get guava, coffee arabica trees too

seasonwithspice said...

Oh yes, let us know if they grow it there at the nurseries. That'd be brilliant! You must be excited to find such wide variety of asian ingredients/ food there.

Eva espiritu said...

hi, i have a nice patch growing in my garden (I live in the Philippines). Can you also use in recipes the flowers that are in full bloom?

Season with Spice said...

Hi Eva - only the unopened buds of torch ginger flower can be eaten. Also, you may want to check with your local botanist to make sure it is the right type as there are various species of ginger flowers.

Season with Spice said...

Hi Eva, the blooming torch ginger flowers must be very beautiful in your garden.

The already blooming flower should still be edible, but it probably won't have that same fresh and crisp flavor, as well as texture, of the unopened buds. If you give it a try, let us know how it turns out.

But before you do give it a try, you may want to check with a local botanist to make sure it is the right type as there are various species of ginger flowers.

Owen said...

Hi Eva, I live in Quezon City and have been looking for this in different herb/flower stores in Manila and even in nearby provinces but no luck. By any chances, do you sell seedling of Torch Ginger Flower? Kindly shoot me an email (rowency@yahoo.com). Thank you!

Owen said...


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