Bunga Kantan (Ginger Flower/Torch Ginger Bud)

October 20th, 2009Ingredients65 Comments
Bunga Kantan (Ginger Flower/Torch Ginger Bud)
Bunga Kantan (Ginger Flower/Torch Ginger Bud) pictures (1 of 4)

Bunga Kantan is the soul of many Nyonya dishesAssam Laksa, Nyonya fish stew and curry dishes such as perut ikan and gulai tumis. Bunga kantan is another Nyonya ingredient that I can’t find here in the United States.

Bunga kantan, or in English, ginger flower or torch ginger bud is the bud of red ginger plant. (There are a few types of ginger: yellow, blue, and red.)  Pinkish in color, they look very pretty and smell great, and they are usually halved lengthwise and used in curries and stews. When cooked, bungan kantan imparts an impossibly floral fragrance and exotic aroma into the dishes. For Assam Laksa, the bud is sliced finely as part of the toppings that complements the sour fish broth and laksa noodles…

Bunga kantan is also widely used in Malay cuisine; in fact, a lot of Nyonya dishes are variations and adaptations of local Malay dishes, due to the inter-marriages between the early Chinese immigrants and the local Malays.

If you have ever seen this in the US, please let me know. I am very keen to source this ingredient.

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65 comments... read them below or add one

  1. B says:

    Similar looking ginger plants grow in South Florida as ornamentals (I know because we have a bunch in my mom’s backyard there). As I understand it the ginger family is really large, though, so I’m not sure that this plant is what you are looking for. And I’ve never seen it in a supermarket there.

    The closest resemblance to what we have growing is this:

  2. I found some dried ones up here in Canada, but when we soaked them in water they were still kind of hard in places. Not sure if I should be soaking them for longer or using hot water….

  3. Gertrude says:

    The only time I saw the bunga kantan was in NY Chinatown and it came frozen.

    • Nyonya Food says:

      I can accept frozen bunga kantan, just like frozen banana leaves, but I can’t find even the frozen ones here. :(

  4. Ellie says:

    I have been looking for the bunga kantan in Sydney too but still no luck. I do miss being in Asia with easy reach to all these wonderful ingredients!

  5. babe_kl says:

    i love the fragrant of bunga kantan, i’ve used it in pomelo salads. it does give the salad a kick!

  6. Joan says:

    I’ve looked for bunga kantan high and low too here in Chicago. I found a substitute that you could try – myoga – in Mitsuwa which is a chain of Japanese grocery stores. The smell is not as fragrant and it’s tiny, the size of your pinkie. It looks like a embryo version of bunga kantan. I made kerabu bok nee with it and it was alright. I figure beggars can’t be choosers. I’m desperate enough to find it that I have considered growing it. BTW, thanks for sharing your recipes and beautiful pictures. I’m from Penang too and your blog reminds me of home.

  7. Yen says:

    Sigh… this is the ultimate ingredient I have been searching up and down in Australia. I know where to get the plant but it takes 4-5 years to flower. If anyone knows about how to get FRESH ones in Australia that would be great!!

    • Nyonya Food says:

      Same here, searching high and low but nothing.

    • Tony says:

      In Australia, you can get in Chinese shop ( inside the freezer ), easy. I bought it so many time before. I like to use it in green papaya salad. But the package said do not eat it raw ( Huh ) ???

      • Nyonya Food says:

        Lucky you, I haven’t seen the frozen one here in the US.

        • Jillian says:

          Hi! I live in Perth and have been searching high and low, left and right, you name it in every Asian store I go. Which state are you in Tony? Are you in WA, if yes, could you please share where I can find it? Thanks!

          • Shellin says:

            I live in Sydney but bought my bunga Kantan in Per. It’s near China town ( North Bridge)..can’t remember name of that shop but is one of the bigger one close to the Chinese BBQ shop. Good Luck.

      • Tomas Dietz says:

        Hi Tony – do you live in Malaysia? I’m in Sydney – do you know particular shops that have it? In Sydney looking for this ingredient is like looking for the Holy Grail. I’ve been to so many Asian grocery shops (even one that specialises in Indonesian products in Campsie) but everywhere I ask for it (I say ‘Ginger Flower’ and ‘Bunga kantan’) but they just screw up their faces and offer me ginger tea, or ginger powder, or pickled ginger, or they just look at me as if I’m from Mars. It’s very frustrating. Actually it’s annoying now…

  8. Tricia says:

    We don’t have bunga kanta and turmeric leaves here, too in Toronto. Sigh! Just wish there are more demand … maybe the markets would start importing it.

  9. umyousef says:

    Hi, we are lucky to get them here frozen in new zealand, the indonesians call them kechombrang but do not know what it was for until I, a Malay, made them assam pedas and rojak. They could not get over the explosion of taste and fragrance on their tastebuds!!

  10. hawaii expat says:

    Torch ginger and in fact all kinds of ornamental gingers are abundant in Hawaii. They do very well in the wet valleys as well as the mountain sides, but I have seen ginger growing almost everywhere in Hawaii except for the very driest areas. Torch ginger grows wild along many roadsides on the Big Island. I never knew you could eat it.

  11. sallyK says:

    Yen, You said you know where to get the plant, in Australia?

  12. yin says:

    Hi, would you enlighten me on how to use this extraordinary ingredient? i am really curious. can the whole flower be used, or only the bud? tha;nks

    • Nyonya Food says:

      Yin – you use only the bud if for garnishing. For flavoring, you can drop the whole thing into your curry, etc.

  13. sallyK says:

    Yen,Appreciate if you can tell me where to get the plant in Australia.Are you in Sydney?

  14. yin says:

    i c. thanks for your reply

  15. Once, I received this from my friend who lives in Jakarta since I was craving to make Ikan Arsik (Batak’s dish). In North Sumatra, bunga kencong or kincung di Sumatra Utara, Javanese calls kecombrang, Sundanese calls honje, while Balinese calls bongkot.

  16. Ann says:

    to umyousef
    I think I saw those in the Auckland Avondale markets, sold by Cambodian or Thai. Not sure how to use them but I know they are wonderful and so unique and fragrant. My mum used to use it back home in Msia. My mouth waters!

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  18. Mike says:

    Hey I saw some of these last week at one of the Asian markets I shop at. I didn’t know what they were. I live in Texas, Dallas. I’ll go back and look around tomorrow if I can or the next. I’ll let you know.

    • sue says:

      Hi Mike,
      Which Asian store was it? I have been searching for this torch ginger thru the Asian store from Garland area to Carrolton and Plano. No luck.
      If you could tell me the name of the store I will be appreciated. Thanks!

  19. Angie says:

    The Torch Ginger is known by the botanical name “Etlingera elatior”. Only thin slivers of the unopened bud is used for flavouring. The opened flower is big and beautiful. If you happen to visit Singapore, come to our Botanic Gardens – Ginger Garden and view the different varieties of gingers grown there. Or you may google to find out more about this ginger. Cheers. Angie

  20. vivienne says:

    This Bunga Kantan loves to grow in places with lots of water , hence it grows well in places near water flowing, drains etc. The best thing when it starts sprouting buds, its best to harvest and freeze them if you don’t use them fresh. At my family home, we have to keep an eagle eye on them flowers as my neighbours and passerbys eye for them too! In Thailand, these flowers are used more for flower arrangements than eaten. They don’t know what they are missing

    • Nyonya Food says:

      Vivienne – thanks for the info about the bunga kantan, never know it. Well, too bad the Thais are missing out on this wonderful ingredients. Laksa is not laksa without it.

  21. carr says:

    My grandma made kerabu bunga kantan with this.
    You thinly slice across the unopen bud at an angle. Stop when you can not cut or when they feels too tough to eat. Use the rest to flavour other dishes in cooking. Kerabu is eaten raw.
    Mix this into fresh sambal chili (not cook), kerisik (white shredded coconut – dry fry them till brown then loosely grid them in a mortat and pastal), dried shrimp (wash then pound lightly in the martar and pastal), juice of limau kasturi. You can add an hard boiled egg (coarsely chopped up).

    You can make kerabu of ladies finger (boiled whole then cut off the top), kerabu green mango (shredded/julienne), kerabu buah nenas (ripen pineapple), kerabu belimbing (star fruit), …oh, yum.

    I haven’t made any Nyonya dish since I leave Malaysia. Reading your blog makes me want to cook these dishes. My kid are begining to explore cooking I think it is good for them to learn. One thing they can’t eat hot food.

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  24. Danielle says:

    I think I just found some at an Indonesian grocery store on Mulberry Street in Manhattan.

    It was a package of four, in the freezer, labeled as “galangal flower”. I haven’t tried cooking with it yet (just bought it yesterday), but it looks exactly like the torch ginger I ate and saw in Penang, and *nothing* like the galangal flower photos I was able to find online.

  25. lilian says:

    Hi, I am using this in a recipe which involved fried fragrant prawns and it calls for 1 bunga kantan thinly sliced. I’m not sure how to use it. The recipe is used to stir fry with some prawns, pounded chili lemongrass ingredients and tom yam paste. I read some cooking sites on the web and they mentioned that u use only the bud (discard the stem) and not to use the stamens of the flower as they are bitter. Or do u simply use the entire bud with the stamens and all? Please enlighten me on how to use this unique flower in the recipe.

  26. Contact me if you want me to send you Torch Ginger Baby or Bud to United States.

  27. John Soh says:

    Hello, for those in Australia you can vist the website the nursey is in Queensland and the cost is about AUD 22. I bought one only yestreday when I’m in Hervey Bay. I’m not sure if they will shipped this to WA or TA because of strict qurantine. They also sell in Jan – Feb young Bamboo shoots. Email to put your name in the mailing list.

  28. James C. says:

    Bee, any luck in finding bunga kantan in LA yet?
    I’m dying to find these wonderful ingredients. I’m in LA as well.

      • James C. says:

        Have you tried to grow them?
        Seems like that may be the only option left :(

        • No space to grow. :(

          • I just red the whole thread… I am an Indonesian chef caterer and do a few ‘best hits’ of Malay. Indo’s use plenty of the pink and red varieties. Betawi’s and Karo tribes prefer the red as its a bit stronger if you can believe. But the pink is smaller and more delicate. I find they’re about the same but the red’s outer petals are a bit waxy/thickish… even in unopened bud form…I save those for pasting into sambals and rempah’s and 1 or two layers in are tender and thin enough for slicing into salads-Laksa-rojak…and the little black seed pods in full bloom flowers are a bit sourish and are great in Sayur Assam ‘Karo’ and such. Once a year some Indo friends are in Hawaii and find/send me back a box priority mail… some will be buds and others are full bloom… I have uses for all. Im using the stems smashed for Laksa Assam and Some Balinese fish soups…
            Recently I had the best time in Hawaii myself on a jungle treasure hunt and hit a mother load in a jungle park where they shot parts of ‘Jurassic park’…felt like Indiana Jones when he found the lost ark. haha! Shipped 13 lbs back to myself in Santa Monica UPS… Now Im down to my last 11 lbs…sheesh! If you go hunting them there I suggest you remind whomever your asking that you just want them for cooking spice not selling cut flowers to tourists as some people in the know are protective bout them but will open up and reveal secret spots…I had a half bloom screen saver pic on my fone that was usefull as well!… sorry so much info I just got carried away as I love this stuff so much too!…Cheers all!

          • Jason says:

   is my email to buy fresh torch ginger

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  30. wennie tan says:

    I found them in Hawaii! They are grown vastly and wildly over there. There are2 , one is called Ginger flowers which are inedible and the other is the.bungalow kanta. Unfortunately, I can’t bring the seedlings nor the plant back!

  31. lou says:

    I get mine frozen from Sri Melaka Nyonya vegatarian market james st perth western australia.

    • Rob Sim says:

      thanks lou! just got back from melaka/penang and was thinking where i was going to get ginger flower in perth (for assam pedas prawns)!

  32. Jason says:

    I am a Torch ginger farmer in Hawaii. I Have three varieties of torch ginger including a white variety, pink, and red. Please contact me if you would like to buy torch ginger buds.


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