SEASON WITH SPICE

Written by root. Posted in BEST OF BRUNEI

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Published on May 17, 2016 with No Comments

Rediscover one of Brunei’s most beautiful botanicals from nature.

Images Department of Forestry, Brunei Darussalam

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For anyone familiar with wild ginger flowers, they can immediately attest to its beauty. The unusual botanical may be red, pink or orange and technically, it is a rhizome (herb). Used in an ornamental decoration, ginger flowers can be a showy piece in a tropical flower arrangement while gardeners love them for their elegance and amazing symmetry.

While many species grow in the wild, some like the torch ginger – a pale pinky-red inflorescence – is also edible. This often grows in the home garden, blooming from colourful bracts and growing from the ground up, resembling a torch (hence the name). The floral variation within the genus is amazing.

Ginger flowers are found largely in the rainforests of Africa and Southeast Asia. The stunning and versatile torch ginger flower is also known by other names, such as Porcelain Rose or Torch Lily. The exuberant colours also make it popular in traditional cooking, spicing up the look of cultural local dishes and flavour. In local Bruneian cooking, for instance, the whole bud is often used as a garnish to add flavour to dishes such as nasi ulam, a rice dish tossed with finely shredded local herbs such as jungle pepper leaves, Indian pennywort, cashew leaves and of course, torch ginger. The subtle nuances of the torch ginger along with the other fresh herbs complement the fragrant rice. The torch ginger is also used extensively in other dishes such as the tamarind broth of the assam laksa (a sour fish-based rice noodle soup), as a salad to be dipped in local sambal (chilli relish) and even made into a simple sauce using soy sauce and vinegar. When used in cooking, the waxy hard petals of the outer later are usually discarded and only the inside red buds and tender petals are used.

The Etlingera elatior, or locally known as bunga kantan in Malay, has been used by the local people in Borneo for centuries. The shoots and flowers are traditionally used as a vegetable or rather as a condiment, the finely chopped young inflorescence is an essential part of some versions of laksa, and the fruits may be eaten or used as a natural shampoo. The leaves have the highest antioxidant, antibacterial, and tyrosinase inhibition activities.

Of course, not all ginger flowers are the same. In Brunei Darussalam, there are 77 species of gingers recorded. Several are used as ornamental, while others are prized for its medicinal properties. One local hotspot where 46 species of ginger was recorded is at the Ulu Temburong National Park by Dr Axel Dalberg Poulsen, during a rainforest expedition in 1991-1992.

Edible ginger represents only a few of the nearly 1,300 species of plants in the ginger family. The torch ginger has yet to be popular in cosmeceutical use and yet, scientific data have revealed its various active compounds and properties. This includes it being rich in phenolic compounds particularly in chlorogenic acid that defends against photoageing and support the skin’s moisture and hydration.

To discover one of Brunei’s edible torch ginger one needs only to visit the local markets, or tamu, such as Tamu Kianggeh. Usually sold in bunches, you only need a stalk or two to add flavour to any dish. Slice the buds thinly to release the floral, often grassy aromatics and you’ll understand why this flower is loved in local cuisines.

On 7 April 2016, the Forestry Department of Brunei Darussalam held the Princess Rashidah Young Nature Scientists Award (PRYNSA) 18 Awarding Ceremony. The flora selected for this year’s theme was the Etlingera elatior, or commonly known as the torch ginger.

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