Q: I see “ramps” on some menus this time of year. What are they and how nutritious are they?
A: Sometimes called wild leeks, ramps (Allium tricoccum) belong to the same genus as onions, leeks, scallions, and shallots. They look somewhat like small scallions but taste more like strong garlicky onions, hence the nickname “little stinkers.”
Part of their allure is that they are available only seasonally, generally from mid-April to early June. In early spring, the plant grows elongated oval leaves with pointed tips, resembling the leaves of lilies of the valley. In short time, these early leaves wither and the plant’s stalk emerges with clusters of small white flowers. Ramps are harvested and sold as food during the narrow window between the first set of leaves and the flowering plant.
Ramps grow in Eastern parts of North America. Most are foraged, not cultivated, though more are being grown to meet the rising demand and to counter concerns that rampant foraging is endangering wild ramps. It’s best to buy ramps from sources that farm them or harvest them from the wild in sustainable ways—or consider growing them yourself next year if you have a garden. Because they are a highly seasonal specialty item, expect to pay more than you would for scallions or other allium vegetables.
There’s no reliable nutrition information for ramps, but their profile is likely similar to that of scallions, leeks, and other alliums, which are low in calories and provide some fiber and small amounts of vitamin C, potassium, and iron, along with flavonoids, sulfur compounds (allicin), and other potentially beneficial compounds.
You can add finely sliced raw ramps to salads; grill, roast, or sauté them as a side dish; or add them to potato dishes, scrambled eggs, soups, or stir-fries. The leaves, stems, and bulbs are all edible.
Since ramps are available only for a short time, if you have extra, you can save them for later use: Cut off the greens and roots and store the bulbs in a tightly covered container in the freezer for up to six months. You can also make pesto with the leaves and stems and freeze that.
Also see 10 Terrific Recipes Ideas for Onions.