“Buzz buttons are an intense experience for the palate… The flowers take the palate on a crazy journey that can last a few minutes. The (Tingala®) liqueur does the same thing.” – Chris Tunstall, A Bar Above
– Ever heard of buzz buttons? The flower buds of spilanthes plant, or buzz buttons, offer an adventure with the unknown, a sensory experience that goes beyond taste. The flowers have a natural effervescent zing, a taste that dances around the mouth and lips, providing a surprising and pleasing mouth tingling experience.
Spilanthes (acmella alba) is a tropical plant native to Brazil, in a class with daisies, chrysanthemums, and zinnias, members of the Asteracae botanical family. It grows in tropical and subtropical regions of the world, including Africa, America, Borneo, India, Sri Lanka and Asia.
Modern names for the flower are buzz button, electric daisy, lemon drop, and Tingflower®. Although also sometimes called szechuan buttons, spilanthes should not be confused with the Szechuan, or sichaun, peppercorn familiar in Chinese cuisine, a small dried herb with both a tongue tingling taste and spicy heat. Buzz buttons do not have a hot pepper flavor; they do deliver intense tingle.
In Brazil, the botanical is known as paracress, brede mafane, or jambu. Traditionally, the small, composite yellow flower buds were used by tribes and shamans in the Amazon region as folk medicine to treat malaria and pain. It was called the “toothache plant” for its seeming natural anesthetic qualities. Modern research verifies many of the plant’s therapeutic and medicinal properties. The botanical also reportedly can help stimulate appetite in patients who have difficulty tasting.
While relatively new to many Western palates, the herbal-botanical tingling taste of spilanthes is familiar to and embraced by people in other parts of the world. Its sensory pungency and mouth-watering properties make it a popular ingredient in tradition dishes such as tacacá, a northern Brazilian stew made with shrimp, yellow peppers, and wild manioc. It is a primary ingredient in romazava, a regional dish of Madagascar.
Modern chefs José Andrés of World Central Kitchen and fellow Spanish chef Ferran Adrià of El Bulli have featured spilanthes in their restaurants. New York’s Marc Forgione also uses spilanthes shavings in his appetizers. “It doesn’t just make your mouth tingle,” he says. “It makes things that are fresh, acidic and bright … just explode. It is a taste-expanding preface to any meal.”
Spilanthes is sometimes called the “super taster flower.” It naturally increases salivation (along with imparting a slight citrus flavor), assisting in the enjoyment of flavors!