What Are Ramps, Exactly—and How Do You Cook With Them?

Trust us, you're not the only one wondering.

Photo: Elizabeth Gaubeka/Getty Images

Ramps season is in full swing during the spring. If you've never cooked with ramps before, you're in for a garlicky, oniony, delicious treat. But what exactly are ramps, and how do you cook with them? Below, we're dishing out everything you need to know about this seasonal green that has quite a devoted following.

What Are Ramps?

Like onions, garlic, scallions, and leeks, ramps—aka allium tricoccum—are part of the allium family (but we promise they won't make you cry like a big ol' onion). They're a wild plant that peaks in springtime and typically grows on the East Coast along the Appalachian Mountain range. As soon as the warm weather hits, ramps quickly deteriorate, so make use of them while they're at their best. Look for ramps at local farmers markets or Whole Foods in order to get the freshest bunch. They can be pricey, due to high demand, but they get even more expensive as the season dwindles, so stock up early.

How Do Ramps Taste?

More flavorful than scallions and leeks, but not quite as potent as garlic or onions, ramps can add a fantastic earthy and savory quality to your recipes. You can eat them raw, but their flavor becomes a little bit softer when they're sautéed using a tablespoon of butter or cooking oil. Generally speaking, ramps' green tops have a milder flavor than the white bulbs, which are also edible. As is often the case with scallions, the two halves of a ramp are typically used together.

Nutritional Benefits

In addition to being highly sought after, ramps boast myriad nutrition benefits that will make want them even more.

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Vitamin C

For starters, ramps pack a hefty dose of immune-boosting vitamin C, and have about twice as much of this key nutrient as the same quantity of oranges. Aside from keeping your immune system in tip-top shape, vitamin C also aids tissue repair and iron absorption.

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Contain beneficial sulfur compounds

Ramps are loaded with sulfur compounds, which have their own impressive nutritional benefits. For example, two of these compounds, thiosulfinates and cepaenes, are crucial for proper blood clotting.

And that's not all! According to a 2017 study, some of the sulfur compounds found in alliums, such as ramps, have been proven to effectively lower blood sugar levels, and may also safeguard your brain from age-related decline.

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May reduce your risk of developing certain types of cancer

A diet rich in alliums, like ramps, may help ward off certain types of cancer. Per an in-depth analysis that included several scientific studies, data shows that people who regularly consume alliums may have up to a 46 percent lower risk of gastric cancer than those who rarely consume them. Additionally, a 2014 data analysis linked high intake of garlic and other allium vegetables to a lower risk of colorectal cancer.

How to Clean and Store Ramps

Ramps are a variety of wild leeks, which means that, like the ombré green stalks, ramps need to be thoroughly cleaned, as dirt and mud can easily get trapped in them. Wash them as soon as possible, wrap them loosely in a damp paper towel and place in an airtight container or storage bag. Their oniony, garlicky aroma is spectacular, yes, but it's also super strong. Keeping ramps sealed versus loose in your crisper drawer will help prevent everything in your refrigerator from smelling and tasting like ramps.

Shelf Life

Given ramps' short season, it's important to make the most out of these beloved veggies and keep them fresh for as long as possible. Expect ramps to last in your refrigerator (properly stored, of course) for approximately three to four days. If you want to extend their shelf life, you can air-dry the green leaves and freeze them in an air-tight container. The bulbs and stems can also be frozen (either separately or together) and will stay fresh for about six months.

How to Cook With Ramps

From their small white bulb that resembles a spring onion to their large green leaves, every part of a ramp is edible (just trim off the roots at the end of the bulb). Feel free to substitute ramps (raw or cooked, depending on the dish) in any recipe calling for scallions or leeks. They also add a bold flavor to soups, as well as egg, potato, and rice dishes.

Need some more inspiration? Slice ramps thin like garlic or shallots and sauté them for a springtime pasta dish, a breakfast omelet, or rich pan sauce. If you've got a whole bunch of ramps that need to be put to good use ASAP, pop 'em in our universal pesto recipe. You could also make a savory compound butter or pickled ramps, both of which will preserve their flavor well beyond April showers and May flowers.

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