What Are Ramps? All About Foraging and Cooking With Ramps
Ramp season comes and goes in a flash, with these wild onions making an appearance in early spring and disappearing before summer. Read on to learn more about wild ramps, most often found at farmers' markets and roadside produce stands.
What are ramps?
Part of the allium family, ramps are a species of wild onion also known as wild leeks and ramson. Ramps grow across eastern North America, as far south as Georgia and as far north as Canada. The Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia can be thought of as the epicenter of ramp enjoyment, with ramp dinners and ramp festivals held every spring across the state.
What do ramps taste like?
While they may look a little like scallions, ramps have a strong garlic fragrance and flavor, with a similar garlicky kick. It may be no surprise, then, that one ramp festival in West Virginia even has its own mascot: "Stinky." Ramps' assertive flavor might even remind you a little of horseradish, which is one reason why they are considered a zesty tonic after a long winter of root veggies.
When are ramps in season?
Ramps are in season during a very short window in spring. Ramps start to appear as early as late March and into April, with the season peaking in May.
Where to buy ramps
If you don't live in an area where wild ramps are prolific, it can be tough to find them. However, availability is becoming more widespread as chefs and home cooks have discovered the joy of this unusual ingredient. Look out for ramps beginning in April at your local farmers' market or at roadside produce stands. You can also check at your local food co-op or gourmet grocer.
Foraging for ramps
If you live in an area where ramps grow, you can indeed forage your own wild ramps. Be extra careful of plants that can look like ramps, however, such as lily of the valley, which can be harmful if ingested.
When foraging for ramps, be sure the leaves you pick smell distinctly of onion and garlic — this is one tell-tale sign that you've found ramps and not something else. In addition, if unsure you should consult a local forager or multiple online sources before eating what you've picked. Of course, as with any foraging, if you're just not sure, it is best left unpicked.
When picking wild ramps, be sure to pick just at the base of the stem, leaving the bulb behind. This ensures that you'll be rewarded with plenty of ramps to pick next year, as the bulbs can take years to appear again.
How to cook ramps
Ramps pack a lot of punch and the point of using ramps is to showcase their full-throttle flavor, rather than drown it out with a lot of other ingredients. So, when experimenting with ramps it's best to keep it simple.
Ramps can be eaten raw or cooked. To enjoy raw ramps, simply slice them and use them as you would scallions or chives. Sprinkle raw ramps into salads, on scrambled eggs, over the top of tacos, or on a baked potato with sour cream.
You can cook whole ramps by tossing them lightly in olive oil and searing in a grill pan or on a hot barbecue. Ramps can be chopped up and cooked into everything from quiche to pasta dishes.
Ramps and bacon is a popular pairing in West Virginia, where people enjoy ramps pan-fried in bacon grease, often served with potatoes or eggs. This recipe is a delicious take on the bacon-and-ramp pairing.
Browse our collection of ramp recipes for loads more ideas.