A wide range of rare vegetables species can be found in Malaysia. It has been estimated that about 120 species of rare vegetables or ulam that are being planted in the home gardens or still growing wild. Some of the rare vegetables are known as ulam based on the way it is being consumed such as pegaga, ulam raja or beluntas.
Rare vegetables are categorised as ulam when the fresh or boiled shoots or young fruits are eaten with sambal or budu. Ulam is the favourite appetizer in Malay cuisine. Other rare vegetables are fried or cooked with coconut milk, or made into rojak or other dishes.
Rare vegetables such as terung asam (Solanumferox), bitter melon (Momordica charantia), torch ginger (Etlingera elatior), petola bantal (Luffa aegyptiaca) winged bean (Psophocarpus Tetragonolobus), Turi (Sesbania grandiflora), Terung Pipit (Solanum torvum), Kaduk (Piper Sarmentosum), Sword Bean (Canavalia gladiata), water celery (Oenanthe javanica), African Eggplant (Solanum macrocarpon), belimbing buluh (Averrhoa bilimbi) and rebung buluh betung (Dendrocalamus asper) contain high nutritional value such as carbonhydrates, protein, fat, minerals and vitamins. Besides that, many rare vegetables have medicinal values to reduce blood pressure and control diabetes.
Terung Asam (Solanum ferox)
The tree is small, reaching up to a height of 0.5 to 1m tall. The whole plant parts are covered with fine hair. Leaves are sub-opposite in arrangement and the shape is oval with triangular lobes. The upper leaf surface is covered with thorns along the veins. The flowers sprout in racemes with short stalks. Flower petals are white and powdery. The fruits are oval in shape, 2 to 3 cm wide and covered with fine hair. The fruit is initially green and turns yellow when ripe. Its sour taste makes it suitable to be used as a sour flavouring for dishes.
Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia)
This herbaceous, tendril bearing vine grows to 5m tall. Leaves are 4 to 12 cm wide, with 3 to 7 lobes which are alternately arranged. The flowers are yellow in colour. The fruit is green and oblong, 17 to 23 cm long, with a distinct warty surface. The young fruits possess white seeds and the piths turn red upon ripening. The fruits taste bitter but the bitterness can be reduced by soaking the fruits in salt water before cooking.
The flesh is juicy and crunchy in texture. The young fruits are normally eaten as ulam. Bitter melons are used in various Asian medicines for a long time as it is believed to possess anti-malarial properties and can control diabetes and cure skin diseases.
Torch Ginger (Etlingera elatior)
This plant can reach 5m in height. The flower is pink, about 90 cm in length and has a long stalk arising from its rhizome in the ground. Torch ginger flower, also known as Kantan flower is popular because it is widely used as a flavouring in many dishes especially in laksa and asam pedas. In addition to that, the flower has high antioxidant properties. The fruit and leaf also posses their own unique medicinal values.
Petola Bantal (Luffa aegyptiaca)
Petola bantal is also commonly known as smooth petola due to the surface of the fruit is is smooth and slightly waxy. The plant is a climber using its tendrils. The fruit is cylindrical in shape, light green with 9 to 10 dark green lines along the length of the fruit. The flowers are bright yellow and the whole plant is covered with fine hair. Young fruits are normally cooked as vegetables. However, fibres from the matured fruits are used as a sponge for cleaning cooking utensils or as a loofah.
Winged Bean (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus)
Wing bean is also known as kacang kelisa. The plant is a type of vine growing with a climbing twining stem. Leaves are trifoliated with three leaflets. The flowers are beautiful and bluish purple in colour. Clusters consists of of 2 to 10 flowers. Winged beans are easily recognised because it has a unique bean pod. The bean pod is about 15 to 22 cm long, four-angled with frilly edges running lengthwise. The surface is waxy and the flesh of the young pod is partially translucent. The bean pod has a high nutritional content. Protein content is also high at about 29% to 39%.
Turi (Sesbania grandiflora)
Turi or geti is a perennial plant reaching the height of 4m tall. Leaves are pinnately compound with leaflets in opposite arrangement. Flowers are white or red in colour, drooping from the flower stalk. The boiled shoot is eaten as ulam while the young leaves can be cooked with coconut milk. Petals of young flower buds can also be eaten as ulam or cooked as vegetables. In addition to that, the bark, leaf, root and flower of the plant also possess medicinal properties.
Terung Pipit (Solanum torvum)
Terung pipit is also known as terung rembang. The plant is weedy and can easily be found at grass fields, bushes or along roadsides. The plant is a shrub reaching a height of 1 to 2m tall. The leaf is large oval in shape with triangular-lobed margin. the whole plant is covered with sharp thorns such as on the stem, leaf, stalks and inflorescence axis. Flowers are white in colour and arranged in a cluster. The fruits are similar to berries, round, small in size and are borne in a short bunch. The young fruits are are usually eaten as ulam, either fresh or boiled. It can also be fried and cooked in dishes. The fruits are believed to reduced high blood pressure.