The red-and-yellow buttons of the toothache plant poke out of lush, dark-green foliage and appear rather strange-looking — the sort of thing you might see in Alice in Wonderland. If you came across it for the first time in its native Amazon, where it is known as “jambu,” you would almost certainly avoid it — its bold colors suggest a little bit (or a lot) of danger.
But inside ICE’s hydroponic garden, where we are growing the toothache plants in a highly controlled setting, you can step out of your comfort zone and try it. The buttons, stems and leaves can be eaten, and deliver a surprising, slowly revealed but long-lasting effect. Some describe it as a numbing sensation. Others find a grassy note, followed by a rush of saliva. Others simply can’t find words to explain the feeling, so resort to mumbling and drooling. It’s like a drug experience without the illegality or potential danger.
Jambu is certainly an oddity and even experienced chefs can struggle to find a use for an ingredient that has such a powerful, unusual effect on the palette. We’ve seen it more commonly used in desserts and drinks, matched perhaps with a touch of chili for heat or with something sweet. You can shred a handful of small, fresh leaves to add an interesting note to a salad. When cooked, the leaves become mild and are served as a Brazilian version of regular greens. The flowers and leaves are also commonly made into oil for use as a flavor extract.
If you’re not keen on its taste, you might be reassured that the toothache plant has numerous other uses. Toothache plant has been utilized medicinally by Asian, African and South American countries throughout history, for its antimicrobial, insecticidal, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antimalarial, analgesic, anesthetic and vasorelaxant properties.
ICE Chef Instructor Jenny McCoy came up with a unique recipe using the leaves. Try if you dare. We guarantee it will create a stir.
The Greener Beast Cocktail
Servings: makes one cocktail
1 ounce absinthe
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce simple syrup
2-4 ounces seltzer
1 sprig of toothache plant
A couple of cucumber slices
· Combine the first four ingredients, stir, and pour into a Collins glass filled with ice.
· Garnish with cucumber slices and toothache plant.
For the full post on the ICE blog, read The Electric Toothache Buzz Button Test