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?
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.
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: