A CONSUMER’S GUIDE TO WORLD VEGTABLES
© DONALD D. HEATON - APRIL 03, 2007
Dedicated to my wife “Fern” and “Aunt Bobbi”
Mr. Heaton has been involved with the produce industry for over 50 years. Over the years, he was involved with produce seminars and the procurement of and presentation of produce. He has authored retail produce manuals and articles on produce quality as well.
Most people in the United States do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. The fast paced world we live in, our demand for convenience foods have made us “fast food” addicts. We are suffering from a “fresh” fruit and vegetable deficit that is growing larger each year. There is no such thing as a “convenience or fast food” that will make up this shortage.
Over the last few decades our growing connection with Asia has had a large influence on the food we eat today. Many of these plants originated from tropical parts of Asia, particularly China, where they have been cultivated and used for centuries. Most of these plants have strong and distinctive flavors, are fast growing, tender, and have a variety of parts of the plant that can be used. In the process of putting this guide together I have listed some of the more popular Asian varieties.
This guide gives you a short history on the vegetable, its common and uncommon name(s), and the family or species name. It also gives a description of its appearance, its usage’s, nutritional values, when it should be available, and where possible, a photograph or illustration. The indigenous names mentioned in this guide are the ones familiar to their ethnic groups and may not be as well known in this country
This vegetable guide was also created for the consumer and world traveler who want to discover what opportunities in nutritional and culinary delights a particular vegetable has to offer. It will give answers to most questions asked.
In the broadest sense, the word “vegetable” refers to any kind of plant life or plant product. Under general terms it means the fresh edible portion of an herbaceous plant that is consumed either raw or cooked. By legal definition, vegetable is a plant or plant part that is usually consumed with the main course of a meal, while those mainly used as desserts are considered fruits. Thus, while cucumbers and tomatoes are botanically fruits, they are still considered vegetables.
Most vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories. None has cholesterol. They are an important source of potassium, dietary fiber, folate (folic acid), vitamin A, C, E, D, and K as wells as essential minerals needed for good health. As our knowledge increases and the availability of these uncommon fruits and vegetables become more extensive, the produce consumer of the 21st Century will have a never-before-known diversity of produce.
(Canna edulis) Also known as edible canna, achira is native to the Andean mountains and widely grown in Vietnam, Laos, and southern China where it grows in the tropical highlands. Achira is actually a rhizome that can be eaten either raw or cooked. It is the source of canna starch which is used as arrowroot. The arrowroot is obtained by rasping the rhizome to a pulp, then washing and straining to get rid of the fibers. This starch is very digestible. The very young rhizomes can also be eaten cooked; they are sweet but fibrous. The direct consumption of canna seems to be slowly fading, mainly due to the long cooking time required to soften the rhizome’s flesh. However, in Vietnam and southern China, it is now being used as a source of starch in the manufacture of transparent noodles.
Canna starch has the largest grains known and settles quickly out of a suspension of grated rhizome tissue. The starch recovery is high; 80% starch content and high in amylose, similar to mung bean starch, the traditional starch for transparent noodles, however, canna starch is less expensive to produce. The rhizomes contain about 25% starch. The dry matter contains about 75 to 80% starch, 6 to 14% sugar, 1 to 3% protein, and is high in potassium, but low in calcium and phosphorus.
The rhizomes are occasionally boiled and eaten; on the other hand in Peru they are baked for up to 12 hours, after which they become a white, translucent, fibrous, slightly mucilaginous mass with a sweet taste. Because of its sweetness, achira is normally stewed or roasted as a desert; it is also used as a food for babies and the elderly. In Colombia, biscuits made from achira are popular and in Cuzco, the baked rhizomes are sold at the Festival of Corpus Christi. Achira is not grown commercially in the United States and available only where grown.
: (Pachyrhizus ahipa) Ahipa is not normally grown in fields on its own but as a cover crop in family orchards. Like yacon it has high water content and is a good source of potassium and vitamin C. The ahipa or Andean yam bean is very similar to the jicama, but unlike jicama, it is not a vine and grows at altitudes up to 6,000 feet in the high Bolivian mountains. The root is smaller and more elongated than the jicama and little known outside of the Andes where it is grown for consumption. Ahipa is a leguminous plant, but unlike its relatives the pea, bean, soybean, and peanut, it is grown for its roots. Its fleshy, tuber-like roots can weigh up to 2 pounds. The white flesh is moist, appetizing, crisp like an apple, and can be eaten raw. The roots are thirst quenching and nutritious with an easily digested starch and they are slow to discolor, remaining crisp after slicing.
Ahapi roots are often used in fresh green and fruit salads, while the young seed pods are cooked and used like French beans. The pods must be thoroughly cooked in order to remove the toxin rotenone. Unlike the jicama, which has become one of the top selling specialty vegetables in the United States, ahipa has received almost no attention, yet it produces a root similar to the jicamas. Indeed, ahipa may have even greater potential since, unlike the jicama plant, the ahipa plant is small, non-climbing, fast maturing, and unaffected by day-length. Its rapid growth and low, sometimes dwarf-like tendency, makes it well suited for commercial cultivation. Ahipa could be the source of a vast new root crop, even for temperate regions.
: (Medicago sativa) The plant, also known in China as Mu xu, or Muk suk and in Europe as lucerne is believed to have originated Iran but is related to wild plants found over central Asia and Siberia. It was first used by the Arabs who named it the "father of all foods," and declared it was the reason for their horses' speed and endurance. The Romans praised its value as food for their animals.
Alfalfa leaves are rich in nutrients including protein, vitamins K and E, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and carotene. Alfalfa extract is used by food processors as a source of chlorophyll and carotene. It is a natural diuretic and is useful in the treatment of urinary tract infections and kidney, bladder and prostrate disorders.
Young alfalfa shoots are now being used as a vegetable for humans. In the United States, alfalfa sprouts are used raw in salads, stir-fries, and steamed as a vegetable. In some Third-World countries, the leaves are used in making a concentrate to help supplement poor diets. Although alfalfa has been utilized for centuries, it has only been in the past few decades that alfalfa sprouts have been marketed to the U.S. consumers. At the present time, alfalfa leaves or sprouts are not a mainstream item and seldom offered by the food trade.(Amaranthus caudatus - hypochondriacus) The genus Amaranthus contains at least 60 species, and grain amaranths were the principle species used in South America. The plant has been cultivated by early civilizations for over 2,000 years, and continues to be used world-wide. Amaranth has a rich history, is highly nutritious, and the plant itself is very attractive. It was a staple in the diets of pre-Columbian Aztecs who believed it had supernatural powers and used it in their religious ceremonies.
Amaranth is used by various ethnic groups in some very interesting ways. In Mexico, it is popped and mixed with a sugar solution to make a confection called "alegria" (happiness), and milled and roasted amaranth seed is used to create a traditional Mexican drink called "atole, a warm porridge-like drink made thick with amaranth. The chocolate version is called Champurrado." Peruvians use amaranth seed to make "chicha," (an ancient Andean beer made from corn) and in Nepal,India, amaranth seeds are eaten as a gruel called "sattoo" or milled into flour to make “chappatis” (unleavened bread similar to flatbreads of the Middle East).” In both Mexico and Peru the amaranth leaves are gathered and used as a vegetable, either boiled or fried.
The amaranth plant grows 5 to 7 feet in height with broad leaves and a head of small, luxuriant, red or magenta flowers. The seed heads resemble corn tassels but are much larger and bushier. The seeds are tiny, lens shaped, golden to tan in color, and sprinkled with some occasional dark colored seeds. Each plant is capable of producing 40,000 to 60,000 seeds. Amaranth seeds can be cooked as a cereal, ground into flour, popped like popcorn, sprouted, or toasted. They can also be cooked with other whole grains or added to stir-fries, soups and stews as a thickening agent.
Although amaranth flour is used in making pastas and baked goods, it must be mixed with other flours for baking yeast breads since it contains no gluten. Generally, one part amaranth flour to 3 or 4 parts of other grain flours is used except in the preparation of flat-breads, pancakes, and pastas where 100% amaranth flour can be used. Amaranth seed is high in protein (15-18%) and contains respectable amounts of lysine and methionine; two essential amino acids that are not usually found in grains. It is high in fiber and contains calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins A and C. The fiber content of amaranth is three times that of wheat and its iron content is five times more. It also contains two times more calcium than milk.
: (Amaranthus graecizans - lividus ) Amaranth is presently being utilized for food in southwestern United States, China, India, Africa, Nepal, South Pacific Islands, Caribbean, Greece, Italy, and Russia. In contrast to grain amaranth, vegetable amaranth has received considerably less attention. While vegetable amaranth is used as a delicacy or a food staple in many parts of the world, use in the United States has been very limited except for canned imports, primarily in the New York City area. For the past 30 years, amaranth has been gaining support in the U.S. and is now grown in Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska, and other states but it is still not a mainstream food. At the present time, fresh vegetable amaranth is hardly ever offered as a singular produce item but on occasion is used in pre-packaged salads offered by the food trade.
: (Archangelica officinalis) Angelica is believed to be native to Syria from where it spread to Europe, England and more northern countries. One explanation for its name is that it blooms on the day of Michael the Archangel, May 8th, and for that reason it was used to ward off evil spirits and witchcraft. Another legend says that Angelica was revealed in a dream by an angel to cure the plague.
The roots of the angelica plant are long, spindle-shaped, thick, and fleshy with some weighing as much as three pounds. Angelica oil is a popular flavoring for confectionery and liqueurs. The appreciation for its sweet licorice-like flavor was established in ancient times when sugar was extremely rare.
An herb of the parsley family, the pale green celery-like stalks are eaten like celery or combined with rhubarb for use in pies, sauces, and jams, while the leaves are used in salads or cooked with fish or poultry. The seeds and roots are used for their oil, which is used in flavoring ice cream, candy, baked goods, puddings, and cordials. It is also used for flavoring liquors such as Benedictine, Chartreuse, Vermouth, Gin, and to a limited extent in wine and perfumes. The leaves have a strong, clean taste and make an interesting addition to salads; and the chopped stems are frequently added to stewed fruits such as rhubarb and plums to reduce tartness. When ground into a powder the root has a strong earthy flavor, and is used in cookies, cakes, breads and muffins. Angelica is not grown commercially for the fresh market in the United States and seldom found in specialty produce departments.
: (Pimpinella anisum) Also known as Sweet Anise or Sweet Cumin, anise is a vegetable plant with a flavor similar to licorice. Even though it has the same name as the herb anise, it is a separate plant with different features and uses. Anise is a slow-growing annual that is native to Egypt and the Mediterranean area. It is one of the oldest known seeds. Hippocrates suggested using anise to control coughing, King Edward I allowed it to be used as a way to pay taxes, and King Edward IV slept on linen perfumed with anise. Ancient herbals list anise as good mousetrap bait. Rodents are not the only ones to find the scent alluring. Anise acts like catnip for dogs and racing greyhounds chase a fake rabbit soaked in the oil. Ground anise is mixed into horse and cattle feed and anise oil is said to make fish bait more attracting.
You can identify vegetable anise by its large, bulbous base and its feather-like stalks. Both the base and the feathers from the stalks can be used in cooking. Because of its unique taste, it is most commonly used in dishes where fish is an ingredient, as it complements that food group nicely. Almost everyone enjoys the flavor of anise, particularly in liqueurs. Anisette and Ouzo are perhaps the most famous but the Latin American “Aguardiente” and the Turkish “Raki” are sure to be familiar to some. The oil of anise is often used for medicinal purposes. It is a common flavor in cough remedies, dental products and helps to hide the bitterness in other medicines.
For cooking purposes, anise seeds have a wide range of applications. It is popular in many confections and the French like to use it with carrots. It is used in Scandinavian breads, East Indian curries and Hispanic stews. The seed enhances cooked fruit dishes, eggs and cheese, spinach and many baked goods. Cinnamon and bay leaves complement the taste of anise and the ornate, delicate leaves of anise add flavor to salads.
Although anise has the taste of licorice and is often used as an artificial flavoring for licorice, true licorice is the hardy perennial (Glycyrrihiza glabra). True licorice is preferred over anise in Europe while nearly 90% of that used in the United States goes into tobacco blends. Anise is usually available year-round.
: (Tropaeolum tuberosum) Also known as Anyu, Mashua, Isanu, and Cubio, the anu is native to the Andes of Chile. For centuries, the Andean farmers have cultivated a wide range of tuber-producing plants. The cultivars found in Andean markets are astonishing in their variety, color, taste, and nutritional values. Most of these plants are similar in some respects, but are distinct botanically. This root crop ranks fourth in importance in the Andean region after potato, oca, and ulloco. Of all the Andean tubers, anu is one of the highest yielding, easiest to grow, and the most frost resistant.
Related to the Nasturtium family (Tropaeolum majus), they range in color from spots of red on yellowish tubers to a purplish apex on white tubers (T. pilefera), to white tubers of the (T. sparre) variety. The anu is very hardy because it grows on poor soil without the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Even under these conditions, its yield can be double that of the potato.
Anu tubers are approximately 4 inches in length and 2 inches in width, with a sharp, peppery taste reminiscent of hot radishes when eaten raw, which is generally improved after being boiled and frozen. When boiled (usually 10 minutes) they are somewhat watery, peppery, and have a slight vanilla-like aroma. After the tubers are boiled and frozen, they are considered a delicacy. Some natives leave them exposed to the air and sun for some time until they are half-dried, which improves their flavor as well as their keeping qualities.
Anu tubers are sliced and served raw in salads, cooked as a vegetable, or cooked into stews and dishes with eggs, onions, and greens. They are also boiled with meat, green vegetables, corn, potatoes, and herbs to form a stew or eaten alone as a baked or fried vegetable. In Bolivia and some parts of Peru the tubers are soaked in molasses and frozen to make a special dessert; in addition, the tender young leaves can be eaten as a boiled green vegetable and the flowers are also eaten.
The nutritional value of anu is high. Dry tubers may contain 14 to 16 percent protein, 80 percent carbohydrate, 9 mg ß-carotene per 100g, and almost 480 mg Vitamin C per 100g. They also contain all of the essential amino acids and posses high levels of asorbic acid. Anus are now starting to become available, either as an import or from enterprising growers supplying the specialty produce markets.
: (Maranta arundinacea) The term arrowroot is used for the easily digestible starch obtained from the rhizomes of the true or West Indian arrowroot plant, which is naturalized in Florida. It also includes the species Maranta nobilis and Maranta allouya, which are used interchangeably with Maranta arundinacea. Other plants which produce similar starches are the East Indian arrowroot (Curcuma angustifolia), Queensland arrowroot (Canna achiras - Canna edulis), and Brazilian arrowroot, or tapioca (Manihot esculenta) of the Euphorbiaceae family. Arrowroot was first discovered and identified on the island of Dominica in the West Indies. The plant is indigenous to the West Indies where the native people, the “Arawaks,” used the powder to draw out the toxin from wounds created by poison arrows. It is believed the name arrowroot evolved from this practice.
Arrow root powder looks and feels like cornstarch, a light, white powder, odorless when dry, but emitting a faint, peculiar odor when mixed with boiling water and swelling on cooking into perfect jelly with a very smooth consistency. This is in contrast to adulterated articles mixed with potato flour and other starches of lower value which contain larger particles. Most starches sold today as arrowroot is actually cassava flour, which does not have the same gelling and nutritional properties. Arrowroot in the past has been quite extensively adulterated with potato starch and other similar substances, so care is needed when buying.
Arrowroot is an excellent source of carbohydrates and digestible calcium. It is used in biscuits, puddings, jellies, cakes, gravies, veal broth, and noodles in Korean cuisine, or boiled with a little flavoring added as an easily digestible food for children and people with dietary restrictions. It is also a mild laxative and helps relieve diarrhea caused by stress. Arrowroot soothes irritated mucus membranes and is used in the treatment of colic, indigestion, and urinary infections. Arrowroot powder is available year-round.
: (Calathea allouia) Also known as Sweet corn root, Topi-tambo, or Lerenes, the Guinea arrowroot plant is native to the West Indies and Tropical America. Guinea arrowroot had been cultivated as a food source for centuries in tropical America, but since the mid-20th century, its cultivation has been declining. Its increasing abandonment seems to be caused by two main factors: its long growing cycle (10 to 12 months) and its replacement by other types of food, i.e., sweet potatoes, yams, and other food products such as wheat flour and bread. The root is about the size of a silver dollar and the flesh is white with a crunch like a water chestnut and a very similar flavor to sweet corn when they are boiled.
This unique characteristic makes them a gourmet item that could compete with popular hors d’ouerves. Guinea arrowroots are usually boiled and eaten with a flavored sauce or it can be used as a side dish and as an ingredient in salads, mayonnaise, and fish dishes. Their leaves are used for wrapping tamales and other foods, and to make baby clothing due to their strong fibers. Guinea arrowroot has the potential for commercial use in the ever expanding field of specialty foods. At the present time, it is only available where grown.
: (Cynara scolymus) Artichokes are native to the Mediterranean area and the Canary Islands, and one of the oldest foods known to mankind. Its origin dates back to the Greek philosopher and naturalist, Theophrastus (371-287 B.C.), who wrote of them being grown in Italy and Sicily. Pedanius Dioscorides (40-90 A.D.), a 1st century AD Greek physician of Anazarbus, Cilicia, wrote about artichokes at the time of Christ, and ancient Greeks and Romans considered artichokes a delicacy and an aphrodisiac. In Ancient Greece, the artichoke was believed to be effective in securing the birth of boys. In the 16th century, eating an artichoke was reserved only for men. Women were denied because the artichoke was considered an aphrodisiac and thought to enhance sexual power.
According to an Aegean legend, the first artichoke was a lovely young maiden named Cynara who lived on the island of Zinari. While Zeus was visiting his brother Poseidon, he spied the beautiful young mortal woman. Since she was not frightened by him, Zeus seized the opportunity and seduced her. He was so pleased with her that he decided to make her a goddess. Cynara agreed and moved to Olympus where Zeus would visit whenever his wife Hera was away. However, Cynara soon missed her mother, grew homesick and sneaked back to the world of mortals for a brief visit. After she returned, Zeus found out what she had done; enraged, he hurled her back to earth and transformed her into the artichoke.
When fully grown, the artichoke plant covers an area about six feet in diameter and reaches a height of three to four feet. The part we eat is actually the plant's flower bud. If the bud is allowed to flower, the blossoms can measure up to seven inches in diameter with a beautiful violet-blue color. There are more than 140 artichoke varieties but less than 40 are grown commercially.
Today most artichokes grown worldwide are cultivated in France, Italy, Spain, and the United States; with California providing 100 percent of the U. S. crop. French immigrants brought artichokes to the United States in 1806 when they settled in the Louisiana Territory. Though the first commercial fields were established in Louisiana, by 1940 the fields in Louisiana had been completely phased out. The Spaniards introduced artichokes to California during the late 1800s and in 1922, the Italians established some of the first commercial fields in the Salinas Valley of Monterey County, just south of San Francisco, California.
The fleshy crowns and floral bracts are eaten raw, boiled, steamed, baked, fried, stuffed, and marinated. The tender inner portion of the flower stalk has a sweet nutty flavor and is eaten raw or cooked. Baby artichokes are not a separate variety but merely smaller versions of larger artichokes. Their size comes from their location on the artichoke plant. They are picked from the lower parts of the artichoke plant where the plant fronds protect them from sun, in effect stunting their growth. Baby artichokes are pickled, preserved in oil, or used in soups, stews, and omelets. When marinated, they are sold as artichoke hearts. Artichokes are available year-round.
Arugula: (Eruca sativa) Arugula is a low-growing annual plant with dull-green, deeply-cut, compound leaves, which have a distinct spicy-pungent flavor. Also known as Rocket, Roquette, Rugula and Rucola, it is a popular aromatic salad green used in Italian cuisine. The specie of arugula used for human consumption is a wild type (Eruca sativa vesicaria). Native to Eurasia, arugula is an ancient crop referred to by Dioscorides in the first century. In Roman times, arugula was grown for both its leaves and seeds. A typical Roman meal was to offer a salad of greens; often arugula, romaine, chicory, mallow, and lavender, seasoned with a cheese sauce. The seeds were used for flavoring oils.
In various Mediterranean countries it is cultivated as a salad green or cooked vegetable, but in Asia it is grown as an oilseed crop. Like most salad greens, arugula is very low in calories and high in vitamins A and C, and a 1/2 cup serving is just two calories. The leaves are used as a flavoring agent in soups and stews as well as adding zest to salads. They are often sautéed with garlic and olive oil and one of the more popular ingredients in mesclum and misticanze (a mixture of baby greens and bitter lettuces with mild herbs). The seeds are often used as a substitute for mustard. At the present time, arugula is not a mainstream item but is infrequently used in pre-packaged salads offered by the food trade.
(Asparagus officinalis) Asparagus is believed to be native to the eastern Mediterranean lands and Asia Minor. It is a perennial plant that can remain productive up to 35 years or longer. Asparagus still grows wild over much of its native area today and is even growing wild in many places in the United States where it has escaped from cultivation. The Greeks collected asparagus from the wild, while the Romans gave detailed instructions on how to grow it. It was once considered a cure-all for almost everything, such as prevention of bee stings, heart trouble, dropsy, and toothaches.
North Europeans and Britons have been eating asparagus for centuries and it is now a universally popular vegetable. Previously it was grown almost entirely with the soil banked high over the roots so the shoots would develop in the dark and be white when harvested. Now however, consumers prefer green shoots so banking the asparagus is not as common. The spears are shoots from the rootstocks called crowns and are usually cut every three to seven days, depending on growth. In spite of its high cost due to labor-intensive cultivation, asparagus remains a favorite vegetable and a pleasant addition to any meal. Young asparagus “shoots” tips are eaten boiled, steamed, sautéed, or stir-fried and the lower part of the shoot can be used in soups. Blanched or white asparagus is preferred by some for its more delicate flavor. Asparagus is available during the spring months of March through June.
Baby Vegetables: Most baby vegetables are fully ripe miniature vegetables cultivated for perfection. Others are immature vegetables picked before fully grown. They are as nutritious as regular-size vegetables and most offer a more tender and delicate taste. There are approximately 45 to 50 types currently being marketed in the United States.
Listed below are a few of the major ones:
Baby Artichokes: Domestic supplies are usually available March through May. These have no choke; once the outside leaves are peeled, the whole vegetable is edible.
Baby Avocados: (Cocktail avocados) These are available year-round and produced in California. They contain no seed and are about 3/4 inch in diameter by 1½ to 2 inches in length.
Baby Beets: Produced year-round, these beets are available in gold, red, and long red. The golden is about 1 inch in diameter with 7 inch tops. They have a milder, sweeter flavor than reds, which are heartier in flavor and have darker tops.
Baby Carrots: Produced year-round, baby carrots are very sweet and can be served with some of their greens. Grown as a gourmet type, they are bred for flavor and bright color. Many have a unique rounded shape and are available in French or Amsterdam varieties. Baby French carrots are 3 to 4 inches in length and 3/4 inch in diameter with a tender, sweet flavor. Baby round carrots are 1 inch in diameter with strong carrot flavor and Baby white carrots are 4 to 5 inches in length, 1-inch in diameter with long tops and white roots.
Baby Cauliflower: Available year-round, miniature cauliflower has a flavor similar to mature product only more delicate. Baby snowball cauliflower is about 2 inches in diameter.
Baby Celery: Available in the fall and winter, baby celery is about 7 inches long with a stronger flavor than the mature product.
Baby Corn: Mexican imports supplement domestic crops and help to make this a year-round product. Baby corn is available in white and yellow varieties.
Baby Eggplant: Available May through October, both round and elongated shapes are produced. Some varieties, particularly purple and white can be bitter and contain many seeds.
Baby French Green Beans: Commonly called haricot verts, this small, slender and flavorful strain of green or snap beans was developed and popularized in France; they recently have gained appeal in the United States.
Baby Green Onion: Available year-round. Taste and use is similar to chives.
Baby Lettuce: Produced year-round in California, there are several baby lettuce varieties available, such as Red Royal oak leaf, romaine, green leaf and iceberg. Red Royal oak leaf is 6 inches in diameter and has rough-cut leaves, dark red in color.
Baby Scaloppini: Available May through October, this is a cross between scallop and zucchini. It tastes like its larger relatives and comes in dark green and yellow varieties.
Baby Soft Squash: Available May through October; soft-shelled varieties include Baby patty pan, Sunburst, Table Queen, and green and gold crook varieties. Baby patty pan is round with scalloped edges with white or pale green skin. Sunburst is the same as baby patty pan except it has bright yellow skin.
Baby Tear-Drop Tomatoes: Available May through October; red and yellow varieties are produced; the latter being very sweet.
Baby Zucchini: Available from domestic sources May through October, while supplies in the off-season come from Mexico and Guatemala. Baby zucchini is often sold with flowers still attached.
: (Phyllostachys dulcis) Bamboo is a large group of giant grasses with over 1,200 species found from the tropics to temperate regions. America once had 5 million acres of native bamboo known as Cane brake (Arundinaria gigantea) growing in the southeastern states. It appears that Southeast Asia has been heavily forested for millions of years and still has one of the largest areas of dense bamboo forests remaining in the world. A bamboo shoot is the start of a young bamboo plant that, if not harvested, will grow into a tall bamboo plant. The leaves covering the shoots are black, covered with tiny hairs and when the black leaves are peeled off; you can see the white flesh inside. The white meat turns yellowish when cooked, and when cooked on the day harvested, it is very sweet.
The young shoot of the bamboo species Dendrocalamus and Phyllostachys are the principal source of bamboo shoots, with the Phyllostachy dulcis (sweetshoot bamboo) being the most highly valued in China where it is called vegetable bamboo. The new shoots are free from acridity and are excellent for eating. There are different sizes of bamboo shoots depending on the plant. Large shoots are usually sliced and used as an ingredient in a main course dish. The little ones (half an inch in diameter) are cut into finger size pieces and eaten as a vegetable with sauces like nam prig gapi (a Thai food recipe for fried rice and shrimp paste). Bamboo shoots are used in salads, soups, stews, and stir-fried dishes or it can be canned, salted, or pickled. Bamboo shoots are used very little by the American consumer; however they are available year-round in most Asian markets, either fresh or processed.
: (Basella alba) Also known as Malabar spinach, Ceylon spinach, climbing/vine spinach, Poi sag, or Saan choi, this easy-to-grow vine is native to tropical Asia and Africa. Cultivated for centuries in China, it is one of the easiest types of spinach to grow. The leaves taste remarkably like traditional spinach and can be harvested almost continually. The leaves and stem tips are excellent in hot weather and can be eaten raw in salads, boiled, steamed, stir-fried, or added to stews, soups, tofu-dishes, and curries. The cooked leaves can be used as a mild laxative and the cooked roots as a treatment for diarrhea. The juice from the plant is used as food coloring for agar-agar, pastries and sweets. It is also used as a red dye for facial rouge and inks for printing. Basella is rarely used by the American consumer; however, they are occasionally available in Asian markets.
: (Phaseolus vugaris ssps.) In general, beans are warm-season annuals that grow erect (bush types) or as vines (pole or running types). They are usually identified in color groups, black-seeded, brown-seeded, green-seeded, mottled seeded, red seeded, white-seeded, and yellow-seeded. Also included in the groups are the shell (shelly) beans and popping beans; known as nuñas and pop beans in South America. The common garden beans consist of several bush types and most of the pole types.
The most often cultivated and most varied species (Phaseolus vugaris), is familiar as both types. The Phaseolus vulgata is known as the French haricot. String beans, snap beans, green and yellow wax beans, and some kidney beans are eaten as whole pods while kidney beans, pinto beans, pea beans, and many other types are sold as dry seeds. The lima beans (Phaseolus lunatus) and butter beans (Phaseolus limensis) are usually pole. Other beans include the hyacinth (Dolichos lablab), the asparagus bean or yard-long bean (Vigna sesquipedalis), and the cowpea, black-eyed pea, or black-eyed bean (Vigna sinensis). The chickpea (Cicer arietinum), which has been cultivated since antiquity for its pea-like seeds is often used as food, especially in India and Spanish-speaking countries. The garbanzo is also considered a bean among the many other legumes that are often considered beans.
Because beans contain a large amount of protein, they are useful as a meat substitute and in different parts of the world as a staple. Baked beans cooked for hours with pork or molasses, or both, are a traditional New England dish. The immature pods of some varieties are eaten raw in salads, boiled, steamed, sautéed, marinated, or pickled. The immature seeds are boiled or steamed and served as a vegetable or used in stews, succotash, and soups. The mature dried beans are boiled, baked, puréed, used in soups, dips, casseroles, and chili or fermented into tempeh, a fermented soybean cake.
Listed below are some of the more popular beans being used in the American market?: (Vigna angularis) Also known as Azuki bean, Aduki bean, or Chinese red bean, the adzuki bean has been grown and used for centuries in the Orient. It was introduced to Japan from China about 1000 years ago and is now their sixth largest crop. This is a species not found in the wild and its center of origin is unknown but is thought to be China, India, or Japan. The adzuki bean is cultivated in South China, Korea, New Zealand, India, Taiwan, Thailand, and the Philippines. Its chief use throughout the Far East is as a confectionery item. It is cooked with varying parts of sugar, water, starch, plant gums, and other ingredients and then consumed as such or in combination with other foods. The single largest use is as “An,” (a mixture of adzuki beans and sugar and water) fillings for bread (ann-pan), steamed breads or dumplings and sweet cakes. There are other beans and legumes which are used to make these pastes, but the adzuki bean is the most prized because of its red color and delicate flavor.
The adzuki plant yields clusters of smooth, short, round pods containing seeds two to three times larger than mung beans. The seeds are basically dark red, but can include green, straw-colored, black-orange, and mottled seeds. Varieties include Japanese red, Chinese red, and Takara. Compared to other beans, the adzuki beans have the sweeter flavor.
Adzuki bean sprouts are a major product in the United States, but the young tender pods can also be harvested as snap beans. The pod is usually eaten like snow peas or cooked and used like common green beans. Dried adzuki beans require one hour of soaking before boiling. Puréed adzuki beans are made by mixing the mature, dried beans with minced garlic, a pinch of turmeric or Chinese mustard and some grated ginger. The beans can be served as a hot vegetable side dish, used as a salad spread, or as stuffing in mushroom caps. The beans are very high in protein (25%) and easy to digest. Dried adzuki beans are available year-round, especially in Asian food stores.
: (Vigna unguiculata) Also known as Black-eyed peas, Cowpea or “Caupies,” (Spanish name), Southern pea, Lobia, the black-eyed bean has been used as food since ancient times. Its place of origin is unknown since there is very little evidence supporting its native land. There are some views supporting Africa, Asia, and South America, claiming that it was introduced from Africa to the Indian subcontinent around 3,000 years ago and then introduced to the West Indies during the 17th century by the Spanish. Black-eyed beans migrated to the United States by way of the slave trade in the 18th century.
The immature pods of are eaten raw in salads or boiled, steamed, sautéed, and stir-fried. The immature seeds are boiled or steamed and served as a vegetable, or used in stews, succotash, and soups. The mature dried beans are boiled, baked, puréed or used in soups, stews, and casseroles. Black-eyed beans are a popular food in the southern states of the U.S. and are available year-round.: (Faba vulgaris) Also known as the Fava bean or faba bean, horse bean (Faba equina), field bean or pigeon bean (Faba paucijuga), the broad bean is not in the same genus as other garden beans (Phaseolus) but related to the pea or vetch. They are believed to be native to the Mediterranean area and their history dates back to the Biblical times. During the third millennium BC, the broad bean was being cultivated in many locations in the Middle East, North Africa, and as far north as central Europe.
The bean pods are large, 7 to 12 inches in length, contain 5 to 7 large flat seeds, and similar in appearance to the lima bean but more angular. As a dry bean, they are harvested when the pods begin to turn black. Immature pods can be used small (just as the pods begin to fill) as you would green or snap beans, but their basic use is as a green shelled bean that’s cooked in salted water. Some people use the upper leaves of the plant like spinach, but one should be cautious since some people are allergic to uncooked broad beans; however the presumed allergens are eliminated by cooking.
Broad beans can also be crisp-fried, causing the skin to split open, then salted to produce a crunchy snack that is popular in China and Thailand. The immature seeds can eaten raw as an hors d’ oeuvre, while the more mature seeds are steamed, sautéed, pureed, or eaten with pasta or rice. When dried, the seeds are boiled, ground into flour, or pickled in salt. In China and Indonesia the beans are used in making soy sauce. Broad beans, better known in Western cultures as fava beans, are relatively new to the American consumer and have only recently been available in American markets. Broad beans are still a rarity in American diets and not often found except in Asian or specialty produce markets.
: (Vigna unguiculata ssp. sesquipedalis) Also known as Asparagus bean, Yard-long bean, or Dow gauk this climbing plant is native to Southeast Asia and a close relative to the cow-pea or black-eye pea. This subtropical/tropical plant is widely grown in southeastern Asia, Thailand and Southern China. The long bean comes in different varieties; from the more common pale green pod variety, to the more slender, darker green one; to the deep brownish-red variety. The beans are rich in vitamin A and contain a fair amount of vitamin C.
The long pods and seeds are edible and essential in oriental dishes, with the darker varieties more preferable. The pods will grow up to 30 inches in length, depending on the variety, but most customers prefer them 10-12 inches in length and pencil-size. They are eaten raw, pickled, steamed, stir-fried, used in soups, or cut into small pieces and served cooked, like the common green bean. They are combined with beef and other meat dishes and additionally in sukiyaki or sautéed. The raw pods are sweet, crisp and have a mushroom-like flavor and the seeds are often boiled with rice or mashed. The Chinese long bean has long been a popular vegetable in Asian cuisine and they are usually available in Asian markets or specialty produce sections in large food stores.
: (Cicer arietinum) Garbanzo is an annual plant which has been cultivated since ancient times for its pea-like seeds and used for food, especially in India. Also known as Chick pea, Ceci, Chana, or Gram pea, the garbanzo bean is native to the Middle East and was grown by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. Today, the main commercial producers of garbanzos are India, Pakistan, Turkey, Ethiopia and Mexico. During the 16th century, garbanzos were introduced to other areas of the world by both Spanish and Portuguese explorers. World garbanzo production is roughly three times that of lentils, with India consuming about 90 percent.
Garbanzos have one of the highest nutritional values of any dry edible legume. Garbanzos' average nutritional content is 22 percent protein, 67 percent total carbohydrates, 47 percent starch, 5 percent fat, 8 percent crude fiber and 3.6 percent ash. The fat (lipid) fraction is high in unsaturated fatty acids, primarily linoleic and oleic acids. They have a delicious nut-like taste and a texture that is buttery, yet somewhat starchy and pasty. A very versatile legume, they are a noted ingredient in many Middle Eastern and Indian dishes such as hummus, where it is cooked and ground into a paste or ground and shaped into balls and fried as falafel. Fresh or dried seeds are consumed in soups, stews, sweetmeats, or fermented into dhokla and tempeh.
The plant is also used as a green vegetable in salads. When garbanzos are ground into flour, called gram flour (besan), they are used in batters, sauces, fritters, pancakes, and dumplings. Many people think of garbanzos as being beige in color, there are other varieties that feature colors such as black, green, and red and brown. While popular in the Middle East and India, garbanzos are not as well accepted in the United States and only a limited amount is grown for the fresh market. However, there is a thriving commercial market for both dried and canned garbanzos.
: (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus) Also known as the Winged bean, this tropical plant is native to Papua, New Guinea and cultivated in hot, humid, equatorial countries; from the Philippines and Indonesia to India, Burma, Sri Lanka, Africa, Asia, the East Indies, and Taiwan. The plant is generally taller and more massive than the common bean and grows up to 12 feet in height. The bean pod is generally 6 to 9 inches in length with four-angled wings and frilly edges running lengthwise. The skin is waxy and the flesh somewhat translucent in the young pods. As the pod ripens, it changes to an ash-brown color and then splits open to release the seeds.
Goa beans have been called the "wonder vegetable" since practically all of the plant is edible. The beans are used as the main vegetable, but the other parts, including leaves, flowers, and tuberous roots are also edible. The tender pods can be harvested within two to three months after planting and used like string beans, with the flowers being used to color rice and pastries. The flavor of the beans has been compared to asparagus with a slight nutty flavor. The young leaves are picked and prepared as a leaf vegetable, similar to spinach or added to salads. The slightly sweet, tuberous roots contain 20% or more protein and are used as a vegetable, similar to the potato. They are substantially richer in protein than other tubers such as cassavas.
Goa roots can be used raw in cold dishes such as potato salad, or baked, boiled, steamed, cut into cubes and roasted, scalloped, fried, cooked and mashed, or chopped and diced for soups and stews. The dried seeds can be ground and used as flour or parched and utilized as a substitute for coffee. All parts of the Goa bean are rich in vitamin A and minerals. At the present time, Goa beans are not grown commercially in the United States and only available through home gardens. Unfortunately, this is another world vegetable that is being under-utilized.
: (Phaseolus vugaris ssps.) Green beans are the immature pods of any kind of bean when eaten immature as a vegetable. Beans commonly eaten in this way include the Chinese long bean, the pea, the winged bean and especially the common bean, whose pods are also called string or snap beans. Varieties have been bred especially for the fleshiness, flavor or sweetness of their pods. Green beans are nearly universal in distribution and one of the basic vegetables in American diets. They are marketed canned, frozen and fresh.
The flowers of the snap bean plant are small and can be black or white. Snap or string beans and pole bean varieties such as Blue Lake or Kentucky Wonder are cooked when young or at the stage of maturity when they can be rightly called string beans. Green-podded filet beans called haricot verts in France are specially bred so the seeds will develop more slowly than regular beans in order to develop better texture and flavor. A popular dish with green beans, particularly at Thanksgiving is green bean casserole. The young pods are eaten raw in salads, boiled or steamed as a vegetable side dish, or used in succotash, stews, and soups. Green beans are a good source for vitamin A and potassium. Three and one-half ounce serving contains only 25 calories. Green beans are usually available year-round.
: (Lablab purpureus) Also known as Lablab or Bonavista bean, it is native to northern Africa and parts of Asia. The hyacinth bean is usually grown as an ornamental twining vine with handsome, purple-tinged, trifoliate leaves. Spikes of fragrant pea-like bright purple flowers (sometimes white or pink) are followed by flat, glossy, bright purple seed pods (up to 6 inches in length). The young immature pods can be boiled and used as a curry vegetable and the young leaves as spinach. They are also cooked and eaten like green beans (older pods may need to be de-stringed). Hyacinth beans have a strong bean flavor and some people like to mix them with other beans or green vegetables for a milder taste. Mature, dried seeds are toxic due to high levels of cyanogenic glucosides and should be boiled in two changes of water before eating to remove the toxins. At the present time in the United States, hyacinth beans are only grown as an ornamental plant.
: (Phaseolus lunatus) Also known as Sieva Bean, Madagascar bean, and Butter Bean, the plants are native to Central America, mainly Guatemala and southern Mexico. The large seeded beans date back to 5000 to 6000 BC along the coast of South America toward Peru and the small seeded bean dates back to 300 to 500 BC in Mexico and Guatemala. This is the genus that is the most accepted in North America.
Today, lima beans are used basically for processing or as dry beans. The plant withstands the heat and drought better than snap beans, although they require a longer growing period. Almost all commercial production is in coastal California because of its longer growing season and temperatures that allow for a high quality product.
Wild lima beans have high levels of glucosides which break down to toxic hydrocyanic acid when the seeds are chewed. However, domestic varieties have minimal amounts and are not dangerous, plus cooking them in boiling water destroys any cyanogens. Shelled lima beans are boiled and used in soups, stews, and succotash, with the sprouted seeds used as a vegetable in Chinese cuisine. The young pods are steamed and served as a side dish with rice or added to soups and stew. Fresh lima beans are limited to local markets and direct sales. Lima beans are grown in California, Delaware, Wisconsin, Washington, New Jersey, New York, Idaho, Oregon, and the Midwest. Processed lima beans are available year-round.
: (Vigna radiata) ) Also known as Green gram, Golden gram, or Munggo or Monggo in the Philippines, the mung bean has been used extensively in Chinese cuisine for thousands of years. Mung bean sprouts are the primary sprouts in most Asian countries. In several Asian countries, mung bean ice-cream and frozen ice lollipops are popular desserts. The beans are also used to make a sweet soup, served either warm or chilled, and in Korea, slightly cooked mung bean sprouts (called sukjunamul) are often served as a side dish. They are boiled for about fifty seconds, then immediately cooled down in cold water and mixed with sesame oil and other ingredients. Mung beans are also made into a popular Indonesian dessert snack where the beans are cooked with sugar, coconut milk, and a little ginger; a dish that looks something like a porridge. Both the texture and taste of mung bean sprouts enhance Chinese dishes, from Egg Rolls to stir-fries and salads.
The popularity of bean sprouts in the United States is a more recent happening. During the health conscious 1980s, when people began to be more aware of their diets, they began using them along with green salads and tofu. Bean sprouts are high in protein, vitamin C, and Folates and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one cup of bean sprouts contains only twenty-six calories. Fresh mung bean sprouts and the dried seeds are generally available in most large food stores year-round.
: (Glycine max) Also known as Soya bean or Soy pea, it native to the tropical and warm temperate regions of Asia where it has been cultivated for at least 5,000 years. The soybean and a few of the lesser species were the only beans known to the Old World before the discovery of America. There are over 2,500 varieties in cultivation, bearing beans of many sizes, shapes, and colors. The earliest record of soybeans was by the emperor Sheng Nung in 2838 BC, in which he described the various plants of China. Soybeans were introduced to America during the 18th Century when they were used as ballast to stabilize the ships arriving from China. China’s soybean fields were devastated during World War II and the following internal strife allowed the United States to become the world’s leading producer and exporter.
Soybean pods grow in clusters of 3, with a length of 1¼ to 2 inches and each pod producing 2 or 3 beans. The beans can be large or small, and long, round or oval. Their color varies; some yellow and some green, but they can also be brown or violet, and some are even black or with spots. One of the most important features of the soybean is its ability to take nitrogen from the air for use by the plant.
Soybeans have important nutritional value and can be consumed whole or processed. Whole soybeans go through a number of processes to yield such products as feed for livestock, flour, tofu, candies, cosmetics, cleaning materials, baby foods, beer, and doughnut mix. When the soybean is processed into oil (makes up 20 percent of soybean) and protein (makes up 40 percent of soybean), the possibilities for its use are endless. The oil is used in making paints, disinfectants, salad dressing, crayons, and ink. It is even used to produce a diesel fuel that smells like french-fries when burned! Henry Ford even used a soybean by-product in the manufacturing of automobiles. Soybean oil is the most consumed bio-oil in the world.
All varieties of soybean are cholesterol free. The high protein, rich mineral base, and mono/polyunsaturated oils found in soybeans make them a unique alternative to other high protein foods that contain saturated fats. The immature seeds are boiled or steamed and served like lima beans or peas, while the mature (dried) seeds are boiled, baked or pressure-cooked and used in soups, stews, and casseroles. Soy flour is used in making noodles, pasta, and confectioneries. Soy bean sprouts are eaten raw, served in salads, or added to omelet’s, soufflés, and stir-fried dishes. Soy beans are available year-round.
: (Beta vulgaris, crassa grp.) The beet belongs to the family Amaranthaceae and is native to the coasts of western and southern Europe; from southern Sweden to the British Isles and south to the Mediterranean Sea. Various forms of the beet have been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times. The Romans used beet root as a treatment for fevers and constipation, and Apicius, in “The Art of Cooking” gives five recipes for soups used as a laxative, three of which feature the root of beet. Hippocrates recommended the use of beet leaves as binding for wounds. Unadulterated beet root juice was believed to be an aphrodisiac during Roman times.
The table beet, also known as garden beet, blood turnip or red beet is a favorite garden vegetable throughout the United States. Their tops are an excellent source of vitamin A and the roots are a good source of vitamin C and minerals. The tops are generally cooked as greens or used occasionally as an ingredient in fresh salads and the roots may be pickled for salads or cooked whole, then sliced or diced. Beet and beet juice is an essential ingredient of Russian borscht. The garden beet is related to Swiss chard, sugar beet and mangel. Mangels (also known as stock beets) are considered too coarse for human consumption and are only grown for stock feed.
Beets can be cooked and served warm with butter (after peeling) as a delicacy or cooked and pickled, then used as a condiment, or raw; peeled and shredded for use in salads. The leaves and stems are steamed briefly and served as a vegetable (like spinach), although this is usually done with young plants. The older leaves and stems can be sliced and stir-fried and have a flavor resembling taro leaves. The stems are also cooked with other foods (black beans) for increased nutrition. Beet greens are generally available during spring and summer months, with the larger root stock available during the fall and winter months.
: (Momordica charantia) The bitter melon is native to India and a member of the Cucurbit family. The melon has been cultivated in tropical areas for centuries, including parts of the Amazon, east Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean and utilized throughout these areas as both food and medicine. Also known as Foo qua, papailla, balsam pear, Karela or bitter gourd, bitter melon is usually grown on a trellis system and is roughly about the size of a medium zucchini, but with a warty skin. The young fruit is emerald green, turning to orange-yellow when ripe and at maturity the fruit splits into three irregular valves that curl backwards and release numerous brown or white seeds encased in scarlet arils. There are several varieties which range in size from 3 to 4 inches in length to almost 12 inches. Bitter melons are used mostly in Asian and Indian cooking and are usually eaten while still green, before there is any color change. The bitterness (quinine content) increases as the melon matures.
To prepare bitter melon, cut in half and discard the seeds and fibrous core. Since the skin is safe to eat, the melon is not usually peeled. To lessen the bitterness, the melons are blanched in boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes. Garlic or chili peppers are often added to recipes with bitter melon to offset the bitter taste; also salt helps to reduce the bitterness. The seeds are edible and included in some recipes.
The unripe fruits are boiled, stuffed, curried, pickled, or used in soups, stews, chop suey, and stir-fried dishes. In Chinese cuisine, they are often prepared with fermented black soybeans. A popular way to use them is to slice them lengthwise and stuff with pork or seafood, then top with oyster sauce, or cut halves into 1/4-inch chunks and add to meat or vegetable stir-fries. The young leaves and tips are often steamed and served as a side dish or added to curries. The fruit or leaves are often added to beans and soup for a bitter or sour flavor, parboiling it first with a dash of salt to remove some of the bitter taste. Medicinally, the plant is utilized for diabetes, as a carminative (expelling gas) for colic, for sores, wounds, and for infections. Bitter melons have yet to become popular as an American vegetable and most are used by people of Asian or India lineage. Bitter melons are available fresh from April to September in most Asian markets and are increasingly found in larger supermarkets, with some selling bitter melons year-round. Bitter melons are also available canned or dried.
: (Brassica chinensis) Bok choy is also known as Flowering cabbage, Pak-choi, Tsoi sum, Yow-choy, and Chinese white cabbage. Native to China, it is classified as a cabbage; although it bears little resemblance to the round European cabbages we are familiar with or to nappa cabbage for that matter. The white stalks resemble celery without the stringiness, while the dark green, crinkly leaves of the most common variety is similar to Romaine lettuce. Although cultivated in China for centuries, it was not until the 1800’s that it was introduced to Europe and North America. While bok choy is commercially grown in the United States and Canada, it remains firmly associated with Chinese cooking. It is very popular in the Philippines, where large numbers of Chinese immigrated after Spain conquered the islands in the 1500's. Bok choy is used raw in salads or stir-fried, steamed, used in soups and stews, or pickled. It is occasionally used as a substitute in kimchi, a Korean hot pickle made with garlic and red peppers. Bok choy is beginning to be recognized by the American consumer as an alternative fresh vegetable for cooking and salads. Bok Choy is available year-round in most large food stores as well as Asian markets.
: (Ipomoea batatas ssp.) Also known as batatas, camote, or tropical sweet potato, the boniato is a member of the morning glory family and was cultivated as early as 1000 BC in Columbia and Peru. The tuber is likened to a cross between a baking potato and a sweet potato in flavor and color. It is easily identified from other sweet potatoes by its burgundy-colored skin, its white or cream-colored flesh, and its subtle taste of roasted chestnuts. It is also much fluffier when cooked, and drier and less sweet than the yellow or orange-fleshed sweet potato. The boniato is very popular in Florida, especially among Hispanics.
The tubers are used in the same way as the orange or yellow-fleshed sweet potato. They are baked, boiled, roasted, fried, steamed, sautéed, mashed, pureed, creamed, or combined in custards and flans (open tart-like pastry), puddings, pies, and muffins. Caution should be used when using spices, since its flavor is easily over powered by heavy seasonings. Boniatos should be peeled if you intend to boil or steam them and after being peeled, they should be immersed in cold water immediately, since the flesh discolors rapidly. When cooking, keep the tubers completely covered with water or gray and blue blotches may appear. Boniatos are not produced on a large scale in the United States, so Mexico, Peru, Chili, and Central America remain the principal suppliers for the U.S. market.
: (Brassica oleracea, italica grp.) Broccoli, known as the "Crown Jewel of Nutrition" because of its richness in vitamins and minerals, has been around for more than 2000 years. Like other species of Brassica oleracea, the plant is native to the Mediterranean area and Asia Minor. Broccoli has two distinct forms; one makes a dense, white curd like that of cauliflower and is called heading broccoli or cauliflower broccoli and the other form makes a somewhat branching cluster of green flower buds atop a thick, green flower stalk. The plant usually grows 2 to 2 ½ feet in height with smaller clusters that arise like sprouts from the stems at the attachments of the leaves and known as sprouting broccoli. The word broccoli comes from the Italian brocco, meaning arm branch. Despite its antiquity, sprouting broccoli apparently was unknown in England until the early 1700s, when it was introduced as sprout cauliflower or Italian asparagus.
Broccoli was little known in the United States until the 1920’s, when the first commercially grown broccoli was grown and harvested in Brooklyn, New York. In 1923, the D’Arrigo Brothers Company made a trial planting of broccoli in California and sent a few crates to Boston where it was an immediate success, and by 1925, the broccoli market was established. Broccoli florets are used raw in salads or boiled, steamed, stir-fried, and used in soups or casseroles. They make an excellent addition to a hors d’oeuvre tray. Broccoli is a good source of Vitamin A, Potassium, Folacin, Iron and Fiber, and contains as much calcium per ounce as milk. It also contains a few important phytochemicals such as beta-carotene, indoles, and isothiocyanates, which keep carcinogens from getting to target cells and help boost enzymes that block carcinogens. California produces 90 percent of the U.S. crop, but it is also commercially grown in Arizona, Texas, Florida, the Carolinas, Washington, Wisconsin, Colorado, Oregon, and as far north as Maine. Broccoli is available year-round.
: (Brassica oleracea-botryus ssp) Also known as Caucoli or Broccoli Romanesco, there is a common misconception that it is a cross between broccoli and cauliflower. However, the plant is actually a type of cauliflower that has the color and flavor of broccoli, but the looks of a cauliflower with an unusual fractal pattern in the flower head. If left growing, the plant will actually turn white like the common cauliflower. Originally from Holland, the broccoflower is moderately chartreuse in color and has a milder and slightly sweeter flavor than its close cabbage family relatives. The immature flower heads are used raw in salads and often served in hors d’oeuvre dishes. They are also boiled, steamed, stir-fried, frozen, and used in soups, stews or casseroles. The flower stalk and mid-veins of the larger leaves are excellent for using in soups, although they are usually disregarded. Since broccoflower is relatively unknown and not a common vegetable to the American consumer, it is grown on a very limited scale. Broccoflower is not usually available except in larger food stores or specialty food markets.
: (Brassica oleracea- alboglabra ssp.) Also known as Chinese kale, Gai-lohn, Kai-laan, and Fat-shan, the plant belongs to the Crucifer family, which includes vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, radish, and turnips. Chinese broccoli is believed to be native to the Mediterranean area and introduced to China and Asia during ancient times. It is a slightly bitter leafed vegetable featuring thick, flat, glossy blue-green leaves with thick stems and a small number of tiny flower heads similar to those of broccoli. Its flavor is similar to the broccoli, although slightly sweeter. The whole plant can be eaten, but the older leaves and stems are generally stringy and discarded. The young leaves and stalks with compact florets are selected because they are the sweetest and tenderest.
Chinese broccoli is used widely in Chinese cuisine, especially in Cantonese cuisine. Common preparations include stir-frying with ginger and garlic or boiled and served with oyster sauce. Unlike broccoli, where only the flowering parts are normally eaten, the leaves and stems are eaten as well, normally sliced into bits of proper size and shape to be eaten with chopsticks. Chinese broccoli is boiled, steamed, stir-fried, and used in sukiyaki. The florets can be dipped in tempura batter and deep fried. Chinese broccoli is usually available in Asian food markets and occasionally in specialty produce departments of large food stores.
: (Brassica rapa - Ruvo ssp.) Also known as rapini, turnip broccoli, Sparachetti, and Cima di rapa, the broccoli raab plant is a wild member of the broccoli family with small, fairly loose florets intermixed with the leaves of the plant. By comparison with broccoli, broccoli raab is much leafier and one eats the entire plant. Broccoli raab usually appears in Italian markets in late November or early December, and last through March or April. Although broccoli raab can be used in a salad, it is quite bitter and becomes even more so as the plant matures. As a result, it's common practice to wilt them with water left on the leaves after they've been washed, then drain away the bitter juices before preparing them. The florets and leaves are tenderer than the stems and if the stems are large, you may want to separate and cook them a little longer. After purchasing, broccoli raab should be used as soon as possible.
Broccoli raab is eaten boiled, steamed, braised, sautéed, or served with pasta, potatoes, and Italian sausages. Italians usually prepare the leaves and florets with olive oil and garlic. The plant is also one of the more popular vegetables in China, especially in Hong Kong.
From a nutritional standpoint, broccoli raab is low in calories and sodium. It is rich in calcium, vitamin A, C, K, and B2, phosphorous, and a good source of protein, fiber and “pholate”, which helps prevent spina bifida, and is often recommended to pregnant women. Broccoli raab is usually available year-round, but its peak season is from fall to spring. Just like broccoflower, the plant is grown on a limited scale and not usually available except in larger food stores or Italian or specialty food markets.
: (Brassica oleracea-gemmifera) Brussel sprouts are native to the cool regions in northern Europe. They were a popular vegetable in Belgium during the 16th century from where they spread to the surrounding countries of Europe. Brussel sprouts are believed to be a mutation of the savoy cabbage. The first descriptions of the plant date back to 1587, although botanists as late as the 17th century referred to it only as something they had heard about but never seen. Between 1800 and 1850, the cultivation of Brussels sprouts spread from Belgium to France and England, and then to America. The spread of Brussels sprouts in America was slow although the French settlers in Louisiana cultivated them.
Commercial production in the United States began in 1925 in the Louisiana delta, and by 1939 had moved to the mid-coastal areas of California, with limited production in New York State. Additional expansion occurred after 1945 when the frozen food industry began processing Brussels sprouts. The small cabbage-like heads are used raw in salads, or boiled, steamed, sautéed in butter, served with cream sauce, or used in soups. Their thick, collard-like leaves can be finely chopped, steamed, and served with butter and lemon juice. The preferred size of the sprouts varies; with Europeans opting for sprouts 1/2 inch in diameter, while Americans prefer sprouts 1 to 2 inches in diameter. Brussels sprouts are commercially grown with the majority of the sprouts being processed. Fresh Brussels sprouts and sprout trees are usually available during the fall months in larger food stores or produce markets.
: (Arctium esculenta) Also known as Japanese burdock or Gobo, burdock has been used in Japan and China for centuries. The great burdock (Arctium lappa) has been used medicinally and (in Japan) cultivated as a vegetable called gobo. The common burdock (Arctium minus) is often confused with the cocklebur. The burdock root, greens, and seeds were known to the ancient Greeks as healing remedies and in western Eurasia, they were important foods and medicines throughout the middle Ages.
The burdock plant has long, thin, carrot-like roots, 12 to 24 inches in length, with brown scurfy skin and white flesh that darkens quickly when cut. Its flavor has been described as a cross between celery and artichoke, a bit earthy and mildly sweet, with a slight bitterness. Cooking will remove any lingering bitterness. Look for firm roots and scrub well to remove any dirt. Since many nutrients are in the skin, don't peel before using.
With Great burdock (Arctium lappa), the roots are sliced, boiled, and eaten as a vegetable and the peeled leaf-stalks and tender leafs are boiled and served like spinach. The very young roots of the Japanese burdock can be peeled, sliced and used raw in salads, while the older roots are stir-fried, sautéed, roasted, pickled, added to soups and stews, or cooked with tofu, miso, or yuba.
A nutritional analysis shows that in 100 grams (2.5 ounces) of fresh root, there is 61 mg of calcium, 77 mg of phosphorus, 1.4 mg of iron, 0.03 mg of thiamine, and 0.05 mg of riboflavin. Although burdock is available year-round and usually found in Asian or specialty produce markets, it is still relatively unknown to the American consumer and rarely found in American food stores
: (Brassica oleracea Capitata grp.) Also known as Green cabbage, Savoy cabbage and Red cabbage, the cabbage plant is native to the Mediterranean area of Europe. As with most vegetables, we wouldn't recognize it in its wild form. Although they appear very different, kale, kohlrabi, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts all belong to the same family. The original cabbage didn't have a head; it was a ragged seaside plant that looked more like the modern kale. By the time of the 1st century, cabbages were forming heads up to 12 inches in diameter and by 1150 AD; both red and white varieties were being grown. During the 18th and 19th century, cabbages were being stored on ships making long voyages to help prevent scurvy.
Cabbage has never been noted for being a gourmet dish; it has always been associated with basic cooking. Cabbage was and still is common fare for inhabitants across the northern temperate zones, especially in Europe, Russia, Scandinavia, and America. Cabbage leaves are eaten raw in salads or cole-slaw, steamed, pickled, boiled, used in soups and stews, or fermented into sauerkraut. In Yugoslavia, whole heads are fermented like sauerkraut and used in “sarma,” (stuffed sour cabbage rolls with smoked spareribs). A popular dish in the United States is made from cabbage and corned beef and sauerkraut is a favorite for use in “hot dogs” and Rueben sandwiches. Cabbage is available year-round.
(Brassica pekinensis) Chinese cabbage and Chinese mustard (Brassica chinensis) are so comparable in their origin, history, and plant characteristics that it is best to deal with them together. Both belong to the Brassica (cabbage) family and both are native to eastern Asia, possibly to Japan as well as to eastern China. They are mentioned in Chinese literature of the 5th century AD. Chinese cabbage is also known as celery cabbage, Pe-tsai, Wong bok, napa, nappa, and Siew choy, while Chinese mustard is known as mustard spinach. The first record of these mustards in Europe was in the 1700s, when missionaries who were sent to the Far East, sent back seeds to be cultivated.
Although it is called celery cabbage because of its similarity to the shape of celery, Chinese cabbage is not related in any way, besides the implied likeness is distorted. Chinese mustard develops a clump or cluster of leaves that do not form a distinct head. Some varieties of Chinese mustard have leaf blades that are almost spoon-shaped, with long, white, erect leaf stalks, forming a clump so dense that they were often confused with pe-tsai by Americans. In America, we prefer the variety of Chinese cabbage, known as Nappa that forms a long, slender, nearly cylindrical head, relatively solid, and weighs two to three pounds when trimmed. The Japanese and some Chinese prefer the enormously thick, squat types, weighing ten to twelve pounds. Chinese cabbage and Chinese mustard do not have the pungency or "heat" of Indian mustard, so when cooked, they are lacking in distinctive flavor. The mild and succulent Chinese cabbage and Chinese mustard is delightful in salads.
Chinese cabbage and Chinese mustard are without the pungency or heat of Indian mustard. Therefore, when cooked they have a very mild flavor. They are most commonly eaten raw in salads rather than cooked as potherbs. Indian mustard is much better for cooking as greens. Chinese cabbage and Chinese mustard is available year-round from California, Arizona, and Florida and found in most Asian or large food stores.
: (Brassica oleracea- capitata) The red cabbage is native to the Mediterranean area of Europe where it is known as red kraut or blue kraut after preparation. Its leaves are usually a dark bluish-purple; however, the plant can change its color according to the pH condition of the soil. In acidic soils, the leaves grow more reddish while alkaline soil will produce the more bluish colored cabbages. When cooked, red cabbage will normally turn blue so in order to retain a red color, it is necessary to add vinegar to the pot.
Red cabbage leaves are used to add color in salads and coleslaw, or steamed, pickled, boiled, and added to soups and stews. Red Cabbage is a better keeper than green cabbage and does not need to be converted to sauerkraut to last the winter. It is higher in fiber than green, with 4 ounces boiled and drained, offering 2.7 grams. It is also higher in vitamin C, offering 25.8 grams per 4 ounces cooked and is higher in calcium, iron, and potassium than green cabbage. Red cabbage is available year-round.
Tuscan Black Palm: (Brassica oleracea) By any name this plant is unique! Nicknamed "Dinosaur Kale"! They have huge heavily crinkled leaves of black-green nearly 2 feet long and will grow up to 4 ft high in good, rich, soil. Dating back to the 1700's in Tuscany, Italy, it is one of the most beautiful and adaptable kales you can possibly grow. It is very cold hardy, but will remain tender and sweet in summertime when other kales become tough and bitter. A touch of frost only sweetens it more. As the name suggests, it really does look like little black palm trees. This plant is prized for both soups and stews and makes a fabulous edible ornamental for both the kitchen or the flower garden
: (Opuntia tuna) Also known as nopalitos, the pads are the stems from the cactus family Cactaceae, and the genus Opuntia tuna (prickly pear cactus). The term nopalitos refers to the pads once they are cut up and prepared for eating. Native to Mexico, the cactus was grown and eaten as a vegetable long before the Spanish arrived. The Spanish explorers took the plant back to Spain and from there the plant spread throughout the Mediterranean area and into North Africa. The plant now grows throughout the southwest regions of the United States where it is considered a nuisance by some.
There are two food items derived from the cactus. One is the "nopalitos," which are the cactus pads and the other is the prickly "pear" or fruit of the cactus. Commercially there are two sizes of nopales pads harvested, one which is small (less than 4 inches in length) and the medium (less than 8 inches in length). The leaf pads are usually harvested between spring and the end of summer. When harvesting, choose the thin pads that are no longer than 8 inches and be sure to wear heavy gloves if you harvest the pads yourself. The pad should snap off easily or you can use a large knife to sever the stem.
To prepare the pads, remove the thorns and the eyes with a vegetable peeler or a small paring knife, then wash the pads well with cool water and peel or trim off any blemished or discolored areas. Slice the pads in long thin slices, in pieces or leave whole depending on the dish you want to prepare. The tender cactus pads are boiled and then used as a substitute for string beans in soups, stews, omelets, chilies, casseroles and filling for tortillas. Over cooking may give them a "slippery" texture you may want to avoid. Cactus pads are usually available year-round in most Hispanic food stores, however in large food stores, you need to look for them in the store’s specialty produce section.
Cardoon: (Cynara cardunculus) Belonging to the thistle family and native to the central and western Mediterranean regions of Europe, the cardoon is believed to have been cultivated there for thousands of years. This forerunner of the artichoke was grown in Carthage, Sicily, Greece, and Italy prior to the Christian era. It was one of the most popular garden plants in Rome during the 2nd century and was used both as greens (a potherb), and a salad plant. The cardoon has been grown over all the Mediterranean countries but it wasn’t until the 17th century that it was introduced into England and the 18th century into America.
Unfortunately, due to the fine stickers and difficulty in processing it, cardoon is not grown commercially in the United States where most people consider it a noxious weed. For use, the blanched leaf-stalks are boiled, braised, sautéed, batter-fried, and pickled or used in soups or stews. The root is thick, fleshy, and tender and can be cooked like carrots or parsnips. Cardoon is extremely rare in U.S. food markets and rarely listed in catalogs. Availability relies almost entirely on home grown gardens.
: (Daucus Carota-sativus) The carrot was established some 5000 years ago in Middle Asia; some believe in Afghanistan, and then slowly spread into the Mediterranean area. The exact lineage of carrots is difficult to trace as it was often confused with the parsnip, its close relative. The bright orange, fleshy root we see today is a far cry from its wild predecessor, a small tough, pale fleshed, acrid root plant. The first carrot cultivars were white, purple, red, yellow, green and black, never orange and their roots were thin and turnip shaped. In Roman times carrots were purple or white and by the 10th century, purple carrots were being grown in Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern Iran. By the 13th century carrots were being grown in Germany and France and by the 14th century, purple, black, red, green, white and yellow carrots were being imported into southern Europe. The Romans ate carrots raw, dressed in oil, salt and vinegar or they cooked them with a sauce made from cumin, salt, old wine and oil. The Greeks called the carrot "Philtron" and used it as an aphrodisiac.
Today the carrot is used in many ways. The roots are eaten raw, sliced or grated for use in salads or boiled, steamed, fried, pickled, made in to jam and wine, or added to soups and stews. Carrot seed oil is used as a flavoring and the juice as a healthful beverage. Flour from the dried roots is used to thicken and flavor soups, dips, sauces, breads, cakes, muffins, pancakes, puddings and custards. Carrots are one of the most popular of root vegetables and an excellent source of vitamin A & C, plus carotene. The longest carrot recognized so far, was grown in 1975 by a gardener in California; a record 38 ½ inches from crown to root tip. Carrots are available year-round.
: (Arracacia xanthorhiza) Also known as Apio or Arracacha, the Peruvian carrot is native to the northern areas of South America, especially in the mountainous regions where the roots are a staple in native diets. In the more humid valleys, from Bolivia to Colombia, arracacha is often grown as an undercover plant with coffee plants or with maize and beans. It is related to celery and carrot, with dry matter, protein and carbohydrate ratios similar to the achira. Attempts were tried in 1829 and 1846 to cultivate the plant in other regions such as England, France, and Switzerland, but those attempts failed to produce edible roots. It was tried again in New York and Maryland, but the results were the same. Later it was introduced to India, and is now proved to be fairly established there and considered to be a most valuable food resource.
At the present time, the Peruvian carrot is known only in India, South America, and a few parts of Central America. Although it takes longer to mature than modern potato cultivars, it is produced at half the cost. The Peruvian carrot is usually grown in small gardens for local use; however, the roots are sold in considerable quantities in the larger cities of Colombia and the rural markets of northern Peru. It is also found in Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. Recently, it has gained popularity in southern Brazil and has become an established vegetable in their city markets. Those who have eaten the roots say they are far superior to carrots and potatoes, both in flavor and texture.
The Peruvian carrot root is similar to the parsnip in shape but blunter. It is tender when boiled, and nutritious with the combined flavor of a parsnip and roasted chestnut. The plants can vary from dark green to purple, and the root’s flesh can be white or yellow, depending on variety. Their starchy roots flavor many dishes, from soups to desserts, and in Brazil, it is used as a thickener in instant soup and baby food formulas. The roots are boiled, steamed, fried, added to soups and stews, or made into fritters and “chicha,” The stems can also be used in salad or as a cooked vegetable. Unfortunately the roots have a very short shelf-life and must reach consumers within one week.
Peruvian carrots contain 26% dry matter, with 23% carbohydrate and less than 1% protein. However, it contains 28 mg calcium (four times what the potato has) and 1.1% iron (double the percentage of the potato) and the yellow variety contains sizable amounts of vitamin A. Peruvian carrots are not grown commercially in the United States, and at the present time, are only available from South America.
: (Manihot esculenta) Also known as Yuca, Manioc, and Mandioca, the cassava is native to South America, especially Brazil and Paraguay where it was domesticated long before recorded history. World production of cassava root in 2002 was estimated to be 184 million tons, with the majority of production being in Africa (99.1 million tons). Around the world, cassava is an important food for about 500 million people. Cassava's starchy roots produce more food energy per unit of land than any other staple crop and its leaves, commonly eaten as a vegetable, provide additional vitamins and protein. Nutritionally, the cassava is comparable to potatoes, except that it has twice the fiber content and a higher level of potassium. Raw cassava is not recommended because of potentially toxic concentrations of cyanogenic glucosides that are reduced to harmless levels through cooking.
In South America, the natives grate the roots and extract the sap through pressing or squeezing, and then it is dried over a fire to make a meal. The meal can then be hydrated with water or added to soups and stews. In Africa the roots are first fermented in water, then sun-dried for keeping or made into dough that can be cooked. In many areas, farofa (flour) and cassava bread is the only food consumed for considerable periods of time. Cassava flour is very bland; like corn meal or wheat flour, and is often mixed with water to create dough that is cooked on a large griddle to make large cassava flat-breads.
Cassavas are used in hundreds of ways; the young leaves (containing 8 to 10 percent protein) are boiled like spinach or added to stews and the soft-boiled roots can replace boiled potatoes in many recipes. The roots are baked, made into purée, dumplings and gnocchi, soups, stews, and gravies, and is occasionally deep-fried (after boiling or steaming) and eaten as a side dish or snack. The roots are also made into flour called farofa, which is used for farina, breads, pastries, fufu, chips, and arrowroot. The flour is also used as a thickening agent for sauces. The refined starch is called tapioca flour in powdered form and is used in making tapioca pearls, which is used in soups, puddings, and dumplings.
The root juice is boiled to make a condiment cassareep (a heavy paste), or fermented into chichi or kaschiri and other alcoholic beverages. It is also diluted to produce a drink called caxiri. Cassava is heavily featured in the cuisine of Brazil and a popular dish named vaca atolada (mud-stranded cow), is meat and cassava stew cooked until the root has turned into paste. In Indonesia, cassava is used in a variety of food products, the same way potatoes are used in the United States. Cassava roots are treated more as a novelty food in the United States and not as well known as they should be. Cassavas are available year-round, usually as an imported item.
Cauliflower: (Brassica oleracea botrytis grp.) Originating over 2,000 years ago and native to Asia Minor and the Mediterranean area, cauliflower was an important food throughout the area. By the 16th century, it was being cultivated and eaten throughout Western Europe. Cauliflower is a member of the Brassica family, which includes broccoli (a close relative), Brussels sprouts, kale, rutabagas, turnips, kohlrabi, radishes, and various other crops like seakale. The plant requires good fertile soil, moisture and cool temperatures to develop. As the plant grows; a flower bud forms in the center of the plant, creating the cauliflower head. While this is developing, the large outer leaves are folded over to protect it from sunlight and to prevent the head from turning yellow.
Cauliflower is an important vegetable in the United States. Almost all cauliflower grown in the United States comes from the Salinas Valley in California, with Arizona, New York, Michigan, Oregon, Florida, Washington and Texas producing the rest. The word cauliflower means “cabbage flower.” Raw cauliflower heads (curds) can be cut into small pieces for use with dips or salads and the young leaves can be used for greens. Cauliflower be boiled, braised, or steamed and served as a side dish or cut up and used in soups, stir-fries, casseroles and stews.
There are other cultivars of the cauliflower such as Romanesco of the Brassica oleracea botrytis group, plus broccolini (a cross of Chinese kale and broccoli) and broccoflower (a cross of broccoli and cauliflower which resembles Romanesco but lacks the Romanesco fractal form). These cultivars are used in the same way as regular cauliflower. Cauliflower is a popular vegetable throughout North America and is available year-round.
Celery: (Apium graveolens) Celery is believed to be native to the Mediterranean regions, however wild species of celery are found in southern Sweden, the British Isles, Egypt, Algeria, India, and China. The Romans valued celery for cooking; conversely much superstition was connected with it since celery was thought to bring bad fortune under certain circumstances. The Italians cultivated celery as a vegetable in the 17th century, but the early stalk celery had a tendency to produce hollow stalks. After years of cultivation and selection, early growers found the strong flavors would abate if celery was grown in cooler conditions and blanched. Blanching is the practice of pushing dirt high up the base of the stalks to prevent sunlight from turning the stalks green. There are two types of celery, self-blanching and green celery. In North America, the green stalk celery is popular and usually eaten raw although it is often used in cooking. In Europe and the rest of the world, the self-blanching cultivars are preferred.
Celery is a household staple to some and an appetizer or snack to others, either way the vegetable has become popular to millions of consumers across the Northern Hemisphere. Celery is used raw in salads, as an appetizer, stuffed with cream cheese, fried, braised, steamed, or added to soups, stews, and casseroles. Celery seed is used for flavoring sauces, soups, omelets, beverages, pickles, celery salt, and bakery products. Celery is usually marketed in loose stalks or pre-packaged celery hearts.
Currently (2005) California harvests approximately 24,000 acres per year, Florida 4,000 acres per year, Texas 1,500 acres per year, and Michigan 3,000 acres per year. California harvests year-round, while Florida harvests from December to May, Texas from December to April, and Michigan, July through September. For the United States, per capita consumption of celery is about 10 pounds per person annually.
: (Apium graveolens rapaceum grp.) Also known as Celery root, Turnip-rooted celery, and Knob celery, the early history of celeriac is the history of celery. Native to the Mediterranean region, celery in its wild form was called smallage. Evidence of cultivated celery has been found in Egyptian graves dating back to the third millennium BC. The ancient Greeks named it selinon, and as such, it was mentioned in Homer's Odyssey, dating from 850 BC. Prior to the 16th century, celery root was used almost exclusively for medicinal purposes. It was only after the 17th century that one finds a distinction between celeriac and celery, when it was recorded by Jane Grigson in England in 1720.
Celeriac has an excellent flavor and texture and it’s surprising that it is not utilized more, probably do to its appearance of looking like an ugly ball of roots. Celeriac is sliced or grated and eaten raw in salads or braised, sautéed, baked, mashed, and cooked as a vegetable. It is used in soups, stews, fritters, and stuffing and the fermented root juice is sold under the brand names Biotta and Eden. Although a popular vegetable in Europe, celeriac is not as well known in America. It is available in limited amounts and occasionally found in produce departments of large food stores. Celeriac is available year-round.
: (Lactuca sativa Angustana grp.) Also known as asparagus lettuce, stem lettuce, Wo sun, Woo chu, and Chinese lettuce, celtuce is native to China and East Asia and a relatively new comer to America. It was cultivated by the Chinese for centuries and introduced to Europe during the early 1800s. Celtuce was finally introduced to the United States from western China in 1938, with the seed becoming available from Burpee Seed Company in 1942. The name, appearance, and taste offer a combination of celery and lettuce.
Celtuce is usually grown as a winter crop. First to appear after planting are the lettuce-like leaves; light green, elongated but lightly wrinkled. Though soft in texture, these fresh greens are excellent in salads. The second growth is the celery-like stalk that looks like a stalk of broccoli with its leaves removed. The plants are left in the ground until they are about 12 inches in height and then peeled, thinly sliced and used in stir-fries. Celtuce is also enjoyed in salads, soups, stews, and sandwiches or sautéed with a sauce of your choice. The peeled and sliced stalks are often served with dip. The flavor is described as being balanced between celery and chard. Celtuce is high in vitamin C; up to four times that of lettuce. It is not as well recognized as iceberg lettuce by the American consumer and as a result, it is little more than an odd vegetable to most. Celtuce is usually available from California year-round and generally found in Asian food markets or displayed in the specialty produce departments of large food stores.
Chard:(Beta vulgaris cicla grp.) Chard is also known as Swiss chard, spinach beet, seakale beet, and native to the whole of the Mediterranean, including the Caspian and Persia areas where it has been utilized for centuries. The red, white, and yellow forms are named from quite early times; the red by Aristotle and the white and dark green by Theophrastus and Dioscorides.
: (Anthriscus cerefolium) Chervil is a member of the parsley family and native to Eastern Europe and western Asia from where it was introduced to France and England by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago. Grown primarily in France and Holland, it is one of the most pleasant-flavored culinary herbs used in Europe and one of the few winter-hardy herbs for year-round fresh use. Its warm, rich, aromatic flavor is said to resemble that of caraway, which blends well with fish and meat. The leaves can be chopped and used in salads, stews, herb butter, and dressings or used as a garnish. Chervil is also used in poultry, potato salads, dressings, seafood, vegetables, egg dishes, vinegar, and soups. It is primarily used in French and European cuisine and is one of the herbs in an herbal mixture known as “fines herbes” in France. Chervil is grown on a very limited scale in the United States and seldom found, even in specialty produce departments.
: (Cichorium intybus) Also known as common chicory, blue-sailor's succory, and witloof, the terms “chicory” and “endive” are often substituted for the "forced" product of witloof, erroneously named French or Belgian endive. Other synonyms for chicory are white endive and Dutch chicory. Chicory is a perennial herb native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia, and naturalized in North America. In North America, Belgian endive is a minor crop, but in northern Europe, it is a very important winter vegetable.
Cultivars of chicory were developed for use as coffee substitutes and have large, thick roots that are yellow-skinned with white flesh. The roots of these plants are dried, chopped, roasted, and ground for addition to coffee, imparting a strong, bitter flavor. Cultivars of chicory with more and larger leaves were developed for use in salads and the leaves were often blanched in the field to reduce possible bitterness. The young tender roots of chicory can be boiled and eaten as a vegetable and the somewhat bitter leaves are used raw in salads or boiled, steamed, braised, sautéed or used in soups and stews. Chicory extracts are also used in alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
: (Allium schoenoprasum) Native to China, the ancient Chinese were recorded using chives as long ago as 3000 years ago. Marco Polo is credited with bringing chives from China to Europe. Different varieties of chives are found growing wild in Europe, England, Ireland, eastward to Siberia, Alaska, Washington State and across Canada to Newfoundland.
Chives are a species of the onion family Alliaceae and referred to only in the plural because they grow in clumps rather than alone. They are a bulb-forming perennial plant, growing to 12 to 20 inches in height, with bulbs that are slender, conical, 1¼ inches in length, 1/2 inch in width, and grow in dense clusters from the roots. Romans believed chives would relieve pain from sunburn or a sore throat and that eating them would act as a diuretic.
Chives are chopped and commonly used for seasoning baked potatoes, cottage cheese, and other foods. They are occasionally used in Japanese cuisine, but rarely in Chinese cuisine. Chinese chives (Allium tuberosum), also referred to as garlic chives are used in Chinese cuisine as a garnish in a number of stir-fry dishes, tossed in after the cooking is complete to add color and mild flavor. The blanched leaves, called Gau wong, chive shoots, or yellow chives, are a delicacy eaten with pork or poultry or stirred into noodle dishes at the last minute. Fresh chives are available year-round.
: (Allium tuberosum) Also known as garlic chives, Chinese leek, Nira, or Gow choy, the Chinese chive is native to Southeast Asia and India where it has been cultivated for centuries. In contrast to garlic, this plant develops a strong root, rather than a bulb and the grass-like leaves grow to a height of twenty inches. Chinese chives are a relatively new vegetable to consumers in the United States but well-known to those involved with Asian cuisine. The flavor of garlic chives is more garlic-like than the common chive, although much milder. Both leaves and stalks of the flowers are used for flavoring and are similar to chives, green onions, or garlic and generally used as a stir-fry ingredient or added to soups, especially miso. In China, they are often used to make dumplings with a combination of egg, shrimp and pork, while the flowers are used as a spice. Chinese chives are usually available from oriental specialty markets.
: (Brassica rapa chinensis grp.) Also known as Chinese flowering cabbages, or mock pak choy, choy sums are the actual flowering shoots of Chinese chard or bok choy. This is one of the Chinese vegetables that are often called a different name for the same vegetable or a different vegetable with the same name. One needs to remember that in Cantonese, “choy” means vegetable and “sum” means heart or flowering stem. Chinese choy sums are grown and harvested similar to gai-lan. The tender, white to light green stems are cooked without peeling and have a pleasant, mild flavor. The more important quality attributes are the tender stalk and closed yellow flower buds. Choy sums are eaten raw, served in salads, stir-fried, steamed, used in soups, and pickled. They are usually found in oriental specialty markets during the spring and summer months.
: (Coriandum sativum) Cilantro is also known as coriander, however technically speaking, the word coriander can be used to describe the entire plant; leaves, stems, seeds, and all, but when speaking of coriander, most people are referring to the spice produced from the seeds. The leaves of the plant are commonly called cilantro, which comes from the Spanish word for coriander. Little is known about the origins of this plant, though it is generally thought to be native to the Mediterranean and parts of southwestern Europe. In the Old Testament: Exodus, chapter 16, verse 31, it says that; "And the house of Israel called the name there of, “Manna” and it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey."
Cilantro has been used in Chinese cooking for centuries and like other ancient cultures, the Chinese valued it for its medicinal and supposed aphrodisiacal qualities, as well as its distinctive flavor. Cilantro is one of the few food herbs used in Chinese cooking. A member of the parsley family, both the plant and its seeds are utilized extensively in Asian, Latin, and Indian cuisines. It is used to heighten the flavor of Chinese soups, Indian masalas (a mixture of many spices and herbs), and Mexican salsas. Cilantro was one of the first herbs grown by American colonists. Today it is grown throughout the tropical and subtropical countries of the world.
The plant is used in two forms; as a spice for its seeds and as an herb for the flavor of its leaves. The leaves are variable in shape, broadly lobed at the base of the plant, and slender and feathery higher on the flowering stems. The young leaves are pickled, stir-fried, used as a garnish, or eaten in soups, fish dishes, guacamole, and salads. It's a different story for the seeds. Coriander seed is an extremely popular spice with a pleasing lemon-like flavor and its aroma is easily detected in Asian curries. Coriander seeds are used in curries, breads, sausages, puddings, cakes, liquor, and spicy sauces, wherever it is needed for enhancing a recipe. Fresh cilantro is available year-round.
Collard: (Brassica oleracea acephala grp.) Little is known about the history of collards in America. Botanists say the collard plant has remained almost the same for about 2000 years and is actually a type of kale. Both collards and kale are actually loose-leaf, non-heading, wild cabbages that are the forerunners of head cabbage. The differences between collards and kale are in the leaf shape, length of the stem, color, and flavor. While collards have a medium green color, smooth texture, and an oval shape; the kale has dark grayish-green broad leaves with a crinkled texture. Collards are a lot milder than kale, which is a strong, bitter vegetable. In 1565 explorers found collards growing in the West Indies and when the first slave ship arrived in Virginia in 1619, collards were already flourishing in the southern climate. When the slaves were brought to the South to work on the plantations, they had to make do with the poorest ingredients; discarded scraps, and whatever foods they could grow for themselves. Since collards were already flourishing in the South, along with turnip and mustard greens, they became an integral part of their diet.
The collards and other greens were seasoned with scraps such as pig's feet, ham hocks, brains and intestines, better known as chitterlings or chittlins. These were thrown together and cooked in a large iron pot and as travelers introduced new food items such as corn, rice, squash, and tomatoes, these were combined in the pot, creating a unique Southern cuisine. Today, collards are commercially grown in the southern United States where they remain a popular vegetable and an essential part of southern cuisine. Collards are also cultivated in Southeast Asia, the West Indies, South America, and the African continent. Fresh as well as canned and frozen collards are available year-round.
: (Zea mays) Also known as Maize or Indian corn and a member of the grass family, corn is a native grain of the American continents. Corn is the most widely distributed crop in the world and can grow at altitudes as high as 12,000 feet in the South American Andes Mountains or as low as sea level. It can also grow in tropical climates that receive up to 400 inches of rainfall a year or in areas that receive only 12 inches. Corn was developed from a wild grass (Teosinte) originally growing in Central America (southern Mexico) 7,000 years ago. Those ancestral kernels looked very different from today's corn. The kernels were small and not together like the kernels on today’s corn. It was first cultivated by the Mayan, Aztec, and Inca Indians more than 5,600 years ago and by the time Christopher Columbus landed in America in 1492, corn was being grown from southern Canada to the Andes Mountains in South America. The Native Americans taught the Pilgrims how to plant and prepare corn, including how to make it into bread, soup, fried corn cakes, and pudding.
Dent corn is the most important commercial type of corn grown in the United States. Primarily yellow or white, dent corn kernels form a dent on their crown at maturity. Some of the other commercial types of corn are; flint corn, sweet corn, and popcorn. Specialty corns grown commercially in the United States include waxy corn, high-amylose corn, high-oil corn, and high-lysine corn.
Immature corn kernels are eaten raw, boiled, roasted, or in succotash, and when cooked and dried, they are called chicos, for use in soups or chilies. Corn is ground into meal for use in breads, cakes, and polenta (corn meal mush), or treated with lye and made into hominy and masa (flour) for use in tortillas, tacos, tamales, enchiladas, atole (a porridge-like drink), and pinole (ground corn for making a delicious corn drink). It is also made into fermented foods and beverages such as chichi (an ancient Andean beer made from corn), pozol (a drink made from corn and cacao), kenkey (a mixture of maize and grated cassava tuber), koko (leaves of Koko Gnetum africanum cooked as greens), and tesguino (corn beer, a brew made in Mexico). Corn oil is used in salads and cooking, while corn starch is used in confectionaries and noodles.
Sweet corn is recognized by its wrinkled exterior. Their sweetness is the result of a genetic defect in metabolism which prevents the sugars in the kernel from being transformed into starch. They require more favorable growing conditions than other types of corn. Sweet corn is usually eaten as a vegetable, rather than grain. Corn on the cob is a sweet corn cob that has been boiled, steamed, or grilled whole and commonly served with butter. The kernels are then bitten off the cob with the teeth. Creamed corn refers to sweet corn kernels that are cut when being removed from the cob to free the juices and at other times, it is a side dish made with corn and milk.
: (Cucumis sativus) The cucumber is the edible fruit of the cucumber plant Cucumis sativus, which belongs to the family Cucurbitaceae, as do melons, gourds and squash. Although the cucumber is believed to have originated in northwest India where it has been cultivated for more than 3,000 years, the wild ancestors of the fruit have been utilized as food since almost the origin of man. Excavations near Thailand revealed cucumbers were eaten as early as 9750 BC. By the time of the Pharaohs, brined cucumbers were part of nearly every meal. Cucumbers migrated to Europe in its early history where they were prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Documents show that Columbus brought the fruits to the New World in 1492 and by the 18th century, cucumbers were being grown world wide. Although India has given the world a large number of fruits and other crop plants, only four vegetables were among them; the cucumber, eggplant, Indian mustard, and cowpeas.
Cucumbers are usually green-skinned, roughly cylindrical, elongated, with tapered ends, and may be as long as 24 inches and 2 inches in diameter. Most cucumbers grown to be eaten fresh (called slicers) are of the smooth-skinned, longer cultivars, while those intended for pickling are called picklers or gherkins (gherkin meaning a small cucumber pickle) and are generally shorter and thicker. The fruit is usually harvested while immature and eaten as a vegetable, raw, cooked, or made into pickled cucumbers. Generally the cucumber is eaten raw but it is common to see it sliced up into a salad or added to yogurt or sour cream to make tzatziki, a Greek sauce. In England, a cucumber sandwich is often served with their traditional afternoon tea.
In the United States, over 70% of the cucumber crop is converted into pickles. Although less nutritious than most fruit, fresh cucumbers are still a good source of vitamin C, vitamin K, and potassium, and it also provides some dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin B6, thiamin, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese. However the pickling process will reduce some of the nutrient content, especially vitamin C. Cucumbers are noted for their high water content (96%) and ability to quench thirst.
Following are five of the more different types of cucumbers in the world.
: (Cucumis melo var flexuosus) The Armenian cucumber is actually a type of long, slender melon in which the fruits are harvested while still unripe, like the cucumber. It is also known as the snake cucumber, snake melon, yard long cucumber, and uri, however, it should not be confused with the snake gourd or club gourd Trichosanthes anguina.
Individual plants bear fruits that are long and twisted and at the same time produce fruits that are broad and oval. Sometimes the fruit will be thin and snake-like near the stem end, but enlarged at the other end, similar to a melon. The skin has no bitterness, is very thin and the fruit is almost always used without peeling. It is often mistaken for a cucumber, but will not cross with them. The fruits can grow to 3 feet in length and 2 to 3 inches in diameter. The skin is a very light green with flesh that is greenish-white. The melon coils around itself like a snake as it grows and its seeds are more like those of a muskmelon than a cucumber. The fruits are eaten raw or cooked and easily digested, even for those who cannot digest regular cucumbers. The flesh remains crisp and firm, even when the fruit becomes soft or flexible. Armenian cucumbers are grown more as a specialty item and are usually in limited supply. They are generally displayed in produce specialty sections or sold in Asian markets.
: (Cucumis sativus ssps.) Also know as the European or greenhouse cucumber, this cultivar is a hybrid and virtually seedless, uniformly shaped, self-pollinating and less bitter than other varieties. They are usually a bit more expensive but the seeds are smaller and they are said to be more easily digested. One of the most interesting thing about this English (forcing) type of cucumber is that the fruits will develop without any pollination of the pistillate flowers and therefore, without forming seeds. The fruit is round in circumference, 2 inches in diameter and up to 24 inches in length. English cucumbers are usually eaten raw as in salads, but they are also used for tea sandwiches or in chilled cucumber soup. Next to the common cucumber, English cucumbers are the most popular in American markets and are usually available year-round.
: (Cucumis sativus ssps.) The Japanese cucumber is believed to have originated in India or Thailand where it has been enjoyed for centuries as a natural coolant. New cultivars have been developed, especially for crispness. Most are deep green, long and narrow, and have numerous spines that can be easily brushed off. Some of the newer types will produce straight fruit even if left on the ground. Japanese cucumbers can be sliced and used in salads (mild flavor) or for pickling and they are excellent for bread and butter pickles. These cucumbers are grown in limited quantities as a specialty item and are generally displayed in produce specialty sections or sold in Asian markets. They are available chiefly during the summer months.
: (Cucumis sativus ssps.) There is some disagreement as to where this cucumber was originally from. Some say Australia while others think it came from Russia, perhaps the exact location will never be known. It was originally introduced in the United States in 1894 by Crosman seeds of New York & Hayward, California. This is one of the more popular cucumber plants in Australia and Europe that produces bright lemon yellow colored fruits which mature faster and need less heat to ripen than most cucumbers. Its flavor is excellent and a bit sweeter than normal cucumbers. They are easy to digest, never bitter and can be eaten out of hand like an apple or sliced or pickled. This cucumber is a benefit to those who are distressed after eating the common cucumber. The lemon cucumber is grown in the United States more as a novelty crop than a commercial crop and are generally sold in produce stands or specialty sections in large food stores or sold in Asian markets. They are usually available during the summer months.
: (sativus sikkimensis) Also known as the brown-netted cucumber, the sikkim cucumber was discovered by Sir Joseph Hooker in the eastern Himalayas in 1848. His report reads "so abundant were the fruits, that for days together I saw gnawed fruits lying by the natives' paths by thousands, and every man, woman and child seemed engaged throughout the day in devouring them."
The cucumber is a large fruited form, reaching 15-inches in length by 6-inches in diameter that is grown in the Himalayas of Sikkim and Nepal. They look remarkably like cantaloupes, both in size and in the netting on the skin. The only difference is the cucumber is more elongated, reddish-brown in color and marked with dark yellow. The plant also has huge flowers.
The interior flesh is snow white, sweet, crispy, and holds its crispiness for weeks unrefrigerated. When you save seeds for propagation, you let the fruit ripen fully on the vine. Then you pick them and store them for a few weeks before cutting them open for seeds, which are then fermented in the same way as tomato seeds are saved.
: (Taraxacum officinale) Also known as Pissenlit and Radicchiello, the dandelion plant is native to the northern hemisphere where farmers and most people consider it a troublesome weed. It has a thick tap root with dark brown skin on the outside, though the inner root (flesh) is white and milky. The leaves are smooth and shiny and the edges of each leaf are shaped like jagged teeth. The leaf is pleasantly bitter when the leaves are quite young and can be substituted for chicory in salads. The young leaves may also be boiled as a vegetable; spinach fashion, however if they are too bitter, use half spinach but the dandelion must be partially cooked prior to adding the spinach. The young leaves are used in salads, boiled, braised, steamed, sautéed, or fried. The roots can be eaten raw or cooked and served like salsify. Dandelion flowers are used in the making of dandelion wine. At the present time, dandelions are only grown commercially for the specialty markets.
: (Anethum graveolens) Native to the Mediterranean region, southern Russia, and the central and southern areas of Asia, dill is now cultivated throughout Europe and North and South America. The plant is an aromatic annual, growing to about forty inches in height with an erect hollow stem, feathery leaves, numerous yellow flowers, and seeds that are lightweight and pungent. Botanically, dill is a member of the parsley family and during the middle ages it was thought to protect against witchcraft. The name “dill” is derived from the Norse "dylla", meaning to soothe. The leaves are harvested during spring and summer, while the seeds are collected when they are ripe in late summer. The leaves, flowers, and oval flat seeds are all edible and have a flavor similar to mild caraway or fennel leaves. The young leaves, known as dill weed or baby dill are used as a seasoning for soups, salads, eggs, pickles, vegetable dishes, sour cream, cream cheese, and sauces. The seeds add flavor to pickles, gravies, stews, mustards and bread. Dill oil is also used in condiments, chewing gum, meat products, and candy. Dill seed is available year-round, while dill weed is available during late spring through late summer months.
In time, the eggplant soon spread into neighboring China (approximately 500 BC) and quickly became a favorite food for the Chinese. However the Chinese viewed the eggplant differently than the Indians did and soon developed their own unique varieties, especially the smaller fruited eggplant as well as those in differing shapes and colors.
During the 4th through the 7th century AD, the Moors introduced the eggplant to Spain and the vegetable soon spread throughout Europe. The 16th century Spaniards had great fondness for the plant and believed its fruit to be a powerful aphrodisiac, hence they referred to them as "apples of love," but the rest of Europe believed they induced insanity if consumed, and referred to them as "Mad Apples."
The English were responsible for the name "eggplant" in regard to a variety with an egg-shaped, white fruit they were familiar with. Today they call them Abergine, which is a corruption of the Catalonian name "Alberginia." Although the eggplant was introduced to the Americas in the 17th century, in particular to Brazil as early as 1650, eggplant remained virtually unknown in the United States for another 150 years. Despite the fact that Jefferson (a founding father of the United States) praised the eggplant, the vegetable was largely ignored and grown primarily as an ornamental plant until about 60 years ago.
: (Cichorium endivia) There are three main varieties of endive: Frisée, curly endive and escarole and all three are native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. The mature plant is often blanched (banked with soil) before harvesting as a method for reducing the bitter flavor. Endive (Cichorium endiva) and chicory Cichorium intybus) are members of the Composite family. Endive has two forms, narrow-leaved endive called curly endive and the broad-leaved endive which is known as escarole. The outside leaves of an endive head are green and bitter, while the inner leaves are light green to creamy-white and milder flavored. Both types of endive are used in fresh salad mixtures to add more zest to the flavor.
Endive is a popular salad vegetable in Europe but less so in the United States. It is most popular in France, Belgium and Holland. In the North America, endive is grown for the green leaves which are used as a salad green and for the thick roots which are used in the southern part of the United States as an additive flavor for coffee and at times, a coffee substitute. Endive heads should be clean, crisp, and bright green. Its young, tender leaves are preferred over older, tougher leaves. The leaves are used in salads or boiled, steamed, sautéed, braised, or used in soups and stews. Endive is available year-round from California, Texas, and Arizona.
: (Cichorium endivia ssps.) Escarole is the broad-leaved cultivar of the plant known as endive. Both types of endive are used in salad mixtures with milder flavored greens to add more zest to the flavor. Escarole has sturdier leaves than the narrow-leafed endive and a slightly milder flavor. Young escarole leaves are tender enough to add to salads but more mature escarole is best cooked as a side dish or used in soups and stews. Escarole can be substituted in recipes for curly endive, radicchio, borage, mustard greens, arugula or spinach. It can be braised in olive oil or butter and is often used in soups with white beans. Escarole is available year-round from California, Texas, and Arizona.
: (Foeniculum vulgare dulce) The plant known as Florence fennel or finocchio, is a member of the (Apiaceae) parsley family and native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean area. It is identified by its finely divided, feathery green foliage and its golden-yellow flowers. Somewhat similar to celery, it is often confused with dill. In ancient times, the Romans believed the young shoots when consumed, would control obesity and during medieval times, fennel was one of the nine sacred herbs that were used to treat diseases. There was also a myth that fennel would ward off evil spirits if hung on doorways on Midsummer’s Eve.
There are several varieties of fennel. Both the common and the sweet fennels are grown for the seed and the essential oils. The seed is used as a spice in cooking and the oil is used in condiments, soaps, creams, perfumes, and liqueurs. The fennel is also grown for the thickened bulb-like base of the leaf stems. There is a variety of fennel plants (foeniculum vulgare) that grow wild around Northern California and two other varieties called (foeniculum vulgare dulce) and (foeniculum vulgare azoricum) are known for their sweetness and a bulb that is often used in cooking.
: (Matteuccia pensylvanica) Also known as Croziers, fiddleheads are a spring delicacy in the northeastern part of the United States. They are actually the young fronds from the Ostrich fern that have not yet opened. The plant is native to the area and the fronds appear on menus and in markets from early May through early July. The fronds must be picked during a two-week window before the fern unfurls. These edible shoots have a unique texture and taste a bit like asparagus or okra. The thick, succulent, unrolled fronds are often used in salads, soups, egg dishes, or salted, boiled and served on toast with butter or cream sauce. They are available fresh only in the springtime and then only in specialty markets. However, there are some small cottage industries that offer canned or frozen fiddleheads.
: (Alpinia galanga) Also known as Laos, Thai ginger, Java root, or Languas, galangal has a fiery taste and the texture of a wood chip. There are two types of galangal; the greater galangal (A. Galanga or Maranta Galanga), which is native to Java and much larger, reddish-brown in color, with a milder taste and odor than the lesser galangal. It is occasionally seen in the markets but rarely ever used.
The lesser galangal (Alpinia officinarum ) is native to China where it is the more popular of the two. The lesser galangal is occasionally confused with greater galangal. In China, lesser galangal is used as a medicinal herb but grown in Indonesia where it is regarded as a spice for flavoring food. Galangal root has been used in Europe as a spice for over a thousand years. The word galangal or its variant “galanga” is used as a communal name for all the members of the Alpinia genus, but in common usage it refers to the greater and lesser galangal.
The rhizome of the lesser galangal looks a lot like ginger root and is usually grown for 4 to 6 years before being harvested. After it is harvested in early autumn, the stems are removed; the fibrous roots are washed clean, then cut it into lengths and allowed to dry in the sun. The rhizomes are difficult to break, dark and reddish-brown on the outside, odorous, and their taste is pungent and spicy. In China it is used in curries, stew and in every dish where ginger is normally utilized.
The branched pieces of rhizome are from 1 1/2 to 3 inches in length, and seldom more than 3/4 inch thick. The rhizomes are used in Russia for flavoring vinegar and the liqueur nastoika, and it is a favorite spice in Lithuania and Estonia. Tartars prepare a kind of tea that reduces the pungency. The reddish-brown powder is used as snuff, and in India the oil is valued in perfumery. Galangal rhizomes are now available in Spain, where they are known as tiger nuts, earth nuts, or chufa nuts. They also make a sweet drink called horchata (A refreshing cold drink made of rice, almonds, cinnamon, lime zest and sugar). Different galangal cultivars vary in their hotness and flavor. Some feel the taste of greater galangal is like peppery cinnamon, while lesser galangal has a stronger, hotter, and more medicinal taste. The rhizomes are finely ground with other items like lemon grass, chili peppers, shallots or garlic to produce an important ingredient for Thai curry paste. It is also used to curb nausea and settle upset stomachs. Galangal is available year-round and is usually found in most Asian markets.
: (Allium sativum) The common garlic is a member of the Alliaceae family, the same group of plants as the onion and is of such antiquity that it is difficult to trace its native origin. In his treatise on the “Origin of Cultivated Plants,” De Candolle believed it was native to the southwest of Siberia, and from there, it spread to southern Europe where it became naturalized.
For over 4,000 years, garlic has played an important role in the daily life of humans, both therapeutically and nutritionally. In folklore beliefs, garlic was connected to good luck and protection against evil. The aroma was said to ward off sorcerers, werewolves, warlocks, and of course, vampires. An Egyptian papyrus from 1,500 BC extolled garlic for 22 ailments. The Egyptians fed it to slaves building the pyramids to increase their stamina and in ancient Greece and Rome, it was used to repel scorpions, for treating dog bites, bladder infections, asthma, and for curing leprosy.
Research in 1858, by Louis Pasteur, documented that garlic killed bacteria. During World War II, when penicillin and sulfa drugs were scarce, garlic was used as an antiseptic to disinfect open wounds and prevent gangrene. Further research shows that an enzyme contained within the plant combines with an amino acid and creates a compound, called allicin, which has been shown to kill 23 types of bacteria, including salmonella and staphylococcus. It can also kill 60 types of fungi and yeast, which among them are the common athletes’ foot fungus and vaginitis yeast. During a vaginal yeast infection, one clove of garlic inserted into the entrance of the vagina will relieve itching better than the most expensive anti-itch cream or suppository.
In England, garlic is seldom used except as a seasoning, but in the southern counties of Europe it is a common ingredient in dishes. Garlic has become an increasingly popular vegetable with United States consumers in recent years. They are becoming more aware of its nutritional values and more chefs are using it in their culinary masterpieces. Garlic is a major crop in the Salinas valley area of California, especially around Gilroy.
: (Allium ampeloprasum ssp.) Elephant garlic is not true garlic, but a member of the leek family. Many people are attracted to elephant garlic simply because of its size. They assume that it is more strongly flavored than regular garlic, when in fact, the opposite is true. The bulbs are very large and can weigh over a pound and a single clove can be as large as a whole bulb of ordinary garlic. In terms of flavor, elephant garlic is much less intense and sweeter than regular garlic and has been described as "garlic for people who don't like garlic".
When buying elephant garlic, follow the same guidelines as ordinary garlic; look for heads that are firm with plenty of dry, papery covering. Elephant garlic is considerably more perishable than ordinary garlic and will not keep as long. When cooking with elephant garlic, remember it is not a substitute for regular garlic but is used where a slight taste of garlic is wanted. Elephant garlic is often served raw in salads or sliced and sautéed in butter and frequently used to give a hint of garlic flavor to soups. Elephant garlic is excellent baked, broiled, steamed, or boiled and served as a side dish. Elephant garlic is available year-round from California, Texas, Arizona, and Florida.
: (Zingiber officinale) Ginger has been cultivated for so long that its exact place of origin is unclear. It has been cultivated in China and India for centuries. It was recorded as being taxed by the Romans in the 2nd century and it appeared in the tariff records of France in the 13th century. Ginger was known in England prior to the Norman Conquest and by the 14th century, it was familiar to English palates, and next to pepper, was the most popular seasoning. A pound of ginger was then valued at the price of one sheep.
Ginger is now grown commercially in nearly every tropical and subtropical country in the world. During the 1990s, the U.S. imported more than 4,000 metric tons of ginger per year from China, several Caribbean Islands, Africa, Central America, Brazil, and Australia. Fresh ginger and dried ginger are considered two different commodities. In China the dried root is known as Gan-jiang and the fresh root as Sheng-jiang. Both fresh and dried ginger is becoming more popular in the United States.
Fresh ginger is available in two forms; young and mature. The young roots, called green or spring ginger, has a pale, thin skin that requires no peeling and is very tender. It is usually grated, chopped, or cut into thin strips for use. Mature ginger root has a tough skin that must be peeled away to get to the fibrous flesh and is usually grated, chopped, or ground for use. Young ginger roots are juicy and fleshy with a very mild taste and often pickled in vinegar or sherry as a snack or just cooked as an ingredient in many dishes. They are also stewed in boiling water to make ginger tea, to which honey is often added as a sweetener. The more mature ginger root is used as a seasoning for flavoring sweets, including cakes, cookies, breads, and beverages. It is also good in sauces, and fruit dishes, and is used heavily in Asian cooking. Fully mature ginger roots are fibrous, nearly dry, and the juice from them is extremely potent and often used in Chinese cuisine to cover up strong odors and flavors such as in seafood and mutton.
Ginger is used in making candy and is the main flavor in ginger ale, a sweet, carbonated, non-alcoholic beverage, as well as a similar, but somewhat spicier beverage, ginger beer. It is also used as a spice added to hot coffee and tea. A ginger-flavored liqueur called Canton is produced in the Guangdong province of China and in the United Kingdom; a green ginger wine is produced and marketed in a green glass bottle. Ginger root is available year-round.
: (Salicornia europaea- virginica) Glasswort, also known as Saltwort, Marsh samphire, Pickle weed, and Sea bean, is native to the United States and Europe. The glasswort plants are small, usually less than 12 inches in height, that are salt tolerant and grow in salt marshes, on beaches, and among mangroves. It is a green succulent plant that resembles baby aloe, with leaves that are small and scale-like and a stem that is jointed together similar to the cactus. The young, salty stems and leaves are used raw in salads, cooked as a vegetable, added to soups, pickled, or used as a garnish. After cooking, glasswort has the texture and flavor similar to spinach. The seeds are high in protein and can be refined into edible oil similar to safflower oil. Glasswort is not available commercially and confined to areas where grown.
: The gourd is a hollow, dried shell of a fruit of the Cucurbitaceae family. Gourds can be used for a number of things, including bowls, bottles, sponges, drums, music instrument, water containers, bird houses, and drinking dippers. Gourd can also refer to the live fruit before it is dried, or to the entire plant that produces that fruit. Only a few varieties are actually grown as food for consumption (such as luffas and snake gourds), mostly in Asia.
Gourds were among the earliest plants to be domesticated by humans and were originally used as containers or vessels prior to clay or stone pottery. Usually gourds are used more for functional uses than for food. The shell of the gourd, when dried, has a wooden appearance. The shell is essentially cellulose that has no grain, varying in thickness from paper-thin to well over an inch. Drying gourds can take up to several months in order for the internal contents (seeds and fruit matter) to dry completely. A pungent smell is evident when opening a gourd that has not dried completely.
The dried out surface of the gourd lends itself to a wide variety of creative demands, including carving, pyrography, sculpture, basketry, masks, and much more. A steadily growing art and craft occupation has emerged in the United States and other Western countries for gourd art and craft-related purposes. Following is three of the most popular gourds used for both consumption (immature stage) and functional uses.
: (Luffa actuangula) Also known as Chinese okra, Cee gwa and Jhinga, the angled luffa is very similar to the smooth luffa (Luffa cylindrica). Both types of these long, narrow gourds are tapered in length, growing wider away from the stem, sometimes reaching six feet or more in length. Although the plant is native to India, it eventually migrated to China where it is used extensively today.
Luffas are only eaten when immature since the more mature fruit is very bitter, producing a juice that is valued medicinally as a purgative. When cooked, these gourds have a flavor and texture similar to the zucchini squash. The young fruits are used in salads, or boiled, steamed, fried, pickled, cooked with coconut oil, or added to soups, stews and curries.
The young leaves can be used in salads or cooked as greens. The angled luffa type should be peeled, as the ridges are fairly hard. Be careful not to overcook them as they will become mushy. Most of the luffas produced for the commercial market are young fruits. Luffas are often available from specialty produce departments in super markets or from Asian produce markets.
: (Lagenaria siceraria) Also know as Opo, Calabash, and Lauki, there is some confusion as to where it is believed to have originated from. Some say Africa, Mexico or Egypt but there is some evidence of cultivation in South America in ancient times. It is possible that gourds may have floated there from Africa since experiments have shown these gourds will survive floating in sea water for more than 220 days with no loss of seed viability. Bottle gourds are often called calabashes but they should not be confused with the fruits of the calabash tree (Crescentia cujete). The mature gourds have little food value but their strong, hard-shelled fruits are long prized as containers, musical instruments and fishing floats.
Their primary use was as water containers and this use was very prominent in Hawai‘i, Easter Island and New Zealand. In the Cook Islands and Society Islands, gourds were secondary to water containers made from large coconuts and bamboo stems. The second widespread use of the gourd was as bowls for food. Bottle gourds come in an amazing variety of shapes, sizes and colors. The colors will vary from dark green to almost white and they may be mottled or striped, warted, ridged, or smooth.
The immature fruits are very smooth, hairless, and normally harvested when 10-12 inches long. They are used in much the same way as hairy melons (Benincasa hispida). Immature bottle gourds are boiled, steamed, fried, pickled, added to soups and curries, or made into fritters. In West Africa, the seeds are frequently used in melon soups. Mature gourds and most round varieties are inedible due to their very bitter taste. They are principally grown for their hard, dried shells. Bottle gourds are available year-round.
Gourd Luffa Smooth: (Luffa cylindrica) Also known as the vine okra, dishrag gourd, or Dhundhul, the luffah plant originated in India and was later taken to China. Left to mature on the plant the squash will produce the familiar "Luffa sponge" found in markets and used as a dishrag or back-scrubber. To convert the gourd to a sponge, soak the light brown mature gourd in 10% bleach water (to whiten) for 24 hours, then peel off the skin and allow it to dry. As with the angled luffa, the young fruits are used raw in salads like cucumbers, pickled, or used in soups, stews, and curries or sliced and dried for future use. The seeds are roasted with salt and eaten as a delicacy. The smooth luffa gourd is available year-round.
: (Trichosanthes anguina) Also known as Padval, Chichinda, or Snake tomato, the snake gourd is believed to be native to India and Southeast Asia. These bright green, thin-skinned gourds can grow up to almost 6 feet in length. They are generally grown with rocks tied to their ends so they don't curl into the curled snake-shape, as they are naturally inclined to do, and are usually cultivated on a frame that is head-high to the average person.
The gourd has little flavor and is used in much the same way as any other lightly flavored vegetable. Once they are peeled, they can be cooked and served like zucchini, as a vegetable, or simmered in coconut milk broth with spices and herbs. The snake gourd is also pickled, eaten as a substitute for green beans, added to curries, sambals (a lentil soup), and stews. In Africa, after the seeds have been removed, the sweet-tasting red pulp of the fruit, resembling tomato pulp is mashed for use in soups. Only the young gourds are used, since as the fruit matures, it becomes bitter and fibrous strands develop, much like those in luffas. Snake gourds are not grown commercially in America but are occasionally found in Asian food markets.
: (Benincasa hispida var. chiehgua): This squash is a small version of the Chinese winter melon. Although known as Fuzzy gourd, Moa qua, Mao gwa, or Chieh-kwa, it is most often called Moqua. The squash is eaten in the immature stage like the bottle gourd and before it has developed the white wax bloom on the skin. As the name implies, it is quite hairy and will need to be peeled. It has a refreshing delicate flavor and is often included in stir-fries and soups. It can be stuffed with shrimp, pork, bamboo shoots, bok choy or onions and mixed with soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and sesame oil.
: Savory herbs are seasoning agents and like spices are used in cooking to flavor, enrich, or otherwise alter the taste and aroma of certain foods to make them more pleasing. Parts of the plants, i.e., leaves, fragrant seeds, fruits, buds, barks, and roots have been used for this reason since ancient times. Most of the spices, i.e., black pepper, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice are acquired from tropical plants. Herbs have long been considered essential in the preparation of foods both in the home and in public food or restaurant places of the world. Many of them are adapted to a wide variation of soil and climatic conditions.
The United States has been almost entirely dependent on foreign sources for these flavoring herbs, even though many are well adapted to our soil and climate. A scarcity of these imported herbs and the resulting high prices have stimulated production in the United States. Some commercial plantings in the southwestern states of some of these herbs, i.e., anise, caraway, coriander, dill, fennel, and sweet marjoram, indicate they may be grown successfully as winter crops in that region.
The use of herbs in cooking is an art. Experience has show that certain foods give a more pleasing flavor when prepared with certain herbs or herb groupings. In using herbs effectively, the three most important factors are interest, imagination, and trial. Master Chefs suggest the following rules for using herbs efficiently. Use sparingly, the aromatic oils are strong, and too much of any flavor is distasteful. Blend carefully for different uses. Have a principal flavor, and then combine two to four less conspicuous flavors with it. Never accentuate more than one strong herb in a blend. Blends should be so skillful that only an expert can tell which ones are used. Always keep in mind that dried herbs are three to four times stronger than fresh herbs.
Professional chefs learn to recognize the herbs by observing certain characteristics common to all herb families as described below.
· Aster Family: (Compositae) Plants of the aster family are familiar by their flowers, which are borne in complex heads like the daisy and sunflower. Only a few of the savory herbs, including tarragon, the various wormwoods, and costmary, belong to this family.
· Lily Family: (Liliaceae) Plants of the lily family are composed of bulbous or enlarged root systems and annual stems. There are 13 subfamilies, each with its own attributes. The savory herbs of this family belong to the allium or onion group. They are usually strong-scented and pungent, with long, slender, flat or tubular leaves that rise from a bulb at its base. The flowers are borne in simple “umbels” (spreading from the center); with many forming bulblets. The primary herbs of this group are chive, leek, garlic, and onion.
· Mint Family: (Labiatae) Plants of the mint family have square stems with opposite aromatic leaves that are dotted with small glands containing the volatile or essential oil that gives the plant its aroma and flavor. Some of the herbs belonging to this group are mints, basil, thyme, marjoram, savory, balm, sage, and rosemary.
· Parsley Family: (Umbelliferae) Plants of the parsley family have small flowers formed in umbels (spreading from the center), like dill at the tops of their hollow stems. The leaves are alternate, finely divided, and contain the aromatic flavor. Some of the herbs belonging to this family are anise, caraway, celery, coriander, chervil, dill, fennel, lovage, and parsley. The leaves are used for flavoring and for garnish in soups, vegetables, salads, meats, and poultry; also the roots go well as a vegetable in soups.
Following are some of the most common herbs being used:
Anise Herb: (Pimpinella anisum) Plants of this family are widely cultivated in Europe and to a lesser extent in China and Mexico. The seeds are prepared as a spice and used in cookies and candies or for other flavoring purposes and the fresh leaves are used in salads, especially apple.
Herb: (Ocimum basilicum) The common sweet basil family and its several varieties are widely grown because of their pleasant spicy odor and taste. Both the leaves and the essential oils are used as flavoring agents. The sweet basil leaves, fresh or dry, are used to improve the flavor of tomato dishes, cucumbers, green salads, eggs, and shrimp.
: (Carum carvi) The caraway plant is native to Europe and Asia and cultivated for its seed in many parts of the world. The seeds are used when boiling cabbage or whole potatoes, in bread, in cream or cottage cheese, potato salad, pork recipes, and cookies.
: (Apium graveolens) The celery plant is native to southern Europe. It is cultivated in North America (primarily California) for its fleshy leafstalk, which is used as a vegetable, and its seeds are used as a flavoring agent. Separate varieties have been developed for the production of seeds as well as for vegetable celery. Included are the root-producing varieties (celeriac) that are used for flavoring soups and stews. Celery seed, seed extract, and oil are used for flavoring soups, sauces, omelets, beverages, pickles, celery salt, salads, fish, salad dressings, and bakery goods.
: (Anthriscus cerefolium) The chervil plant is native to southern and western Asia and the finely-cut, lacy, almost fern-like leaves possess an aroma and flavor that is similar to tarragon. The tuberous-rooted varieties are grown and eaten as a vegetable, much like carrots. The leaves, fresh or dry, give a refreshing flavor to salads and salad dressings, omelets, soups, and stews.
Herb: (Allium schoenoprasum) Chives belong to the lily (onion) family and is native to northern Europe and parts of North America. The small bulbous plants grow in clumps to a height of 8 to 10 inches and multiply so rapidly that it is necessary to subdivide them every 2 or 3 years to prevent overcrowding. Except for the bulb and dried leaves, the entire plant can be used fresh. The chopped leaves have a more delicate flavor than onions and are used with many foods that call for a milder onion flavor. They are excellent in salads and for flavoring omelets, butter, cream cheese, and fish dishes or used as a garnish.
: (Coriandrum sativum) The coriander is native to southern Europe and Asia and is found in many other parts of the world. It has been cultivated for centuries in European countries where the dried seed is an important flavoring agent. The pleasant flavor is not thoroughly developed until the seed is completely dry. The seeds are used in cookies, French dressing, and in combination with other spices.
: (Chrysanthemum majus) Costmary belongs to the aster family and is a native of western Asia. The plants produce large clumps of long, narrow leaves with a mint-like aroma and bitter flavor. The leaves can be used any time during the season in the same manner as rhubarb and used either fresh or dried. Costmary leaves are generally used with meats, poultry, and tea.
Herb: (Cuminum cyminum) The cumin is another member of the parsley family that is widely cultivated in the Mediterranean areas of Europe and India. Its fragrant seeds are extensively used in the United States for flavoring various foods. Cumin seeds are used in various types of bread as well as in sausages and cottage cheese. They are also an important ingredient in chili and curry powders.
: (Anethum graveolens) The dill plant is native to the Mediterranean countries and southern Russia and grows wild in various parts of Africa and Asia. It is cultivated in Germany, India, Rumania, and England and to some extent in North America. The whole plant is utilized, including the young leaves, stems and fully mature green seeds that are used for flavoring purposes, especially in pickles. The leaves are used only in the fresh state, but the tops and seeds may be used either fresh or dried. The leaves, freshly chopped, may be used alone in sandwiches or for broiled or fried meats, fish, fish sauces, and in creamed or fricasseed chicken. The tops are generally used for flavoring pickles.
Fennel Common & Sweet Herb: (Foeniculum vulgare) Both the common fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and the sweet (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce) are commonly grown for flavoring purposes. The mature seeds are used for seasoning and the young tender shoots and leaves of the sweet fennel are used to give flavor to fish, fish sauces, and salads. The young tender stems of sweet fennel when blanched, may be eaten raw like celery or added to salads, or the enlarged leaf base may be cut and cooked in water or meat stock as a vegetable. The seeds are generally used in breads, pastries, candies, and drinks.
Sweet Herb: (Origanum marjorana) All three species of marjoram are used in food flavoring, however sweet marjoram is preferred over the other two, the pot herb (Origanum onites) and the wild (Origanum vulgare), because of its more delicate flavor. It possesses a pleasant aroma and a warm, pleasing flavor. In commercial use, the herb is an ingredient in poultry seasoning mixtures. The leaves of sweet marjoram are especially good with veal and liver, in herb butter, on cold roast-beef sandwiches, in egg dishes and meat, or in poultry stuffing, stews, and soups. They also used to add flavor to syrups, potato salads, sauces, sausages, creamed potatoes, and string beans. The chopped leaves in melted butter may be added to cooked spinach prior to serving. The seeds are used in flavoring candy, condiments, beverages, and meat products.
: (Rosmarinus officinalis) The rosemary plant belongs to the mint family, is native to the Mediterranean countries, and cultivated in gardens throughout Europe and the United States. The plant’s small narrow leaves have a very spicy aroma that makes them valuable as a flavoring and scenting agent. The fresh or dried leaves should be used sparingly in adding flavor to cream soups, poultry, stews, and sauces. Rosemary is also used for seasoning in stuffing, sausages, fish, and lamb.
: (Salvia officinalis) This is another herb that belongs to the mint family and native to the southern European countries. Sage is one of the more popular herbs for seasoning meats in the United States. The leaves are used sparingly with onions for stuffing pork, ducks, or geese. The powdered leaves can be rubbed on the outside of fresh pork, ham, and loin for added flavor and the dried leaves can be steeped for tea. Aside from seasoning meats, sage is also used in stuffing, cheese, soups, stews, sauces, sausages, and sage-milk.
: (Satureja hortensis) Summer savory belongs to the mint family and is native to southern Europe. The tender leaves and stems may be used any time during the season, but the leaves, fresh or dry, may be added to string beans, or soups, stuffing, and sauces for veal and poultry. They are also used in egg dishes and salads. Summer savory is one of the most pleasing mixers in herbs.
: (Satureja montana) The winter savory is native to the Mediterranean area of Europe and similar in flavor to the summer savory; only much stronger. The leaves give added emphasis to salads, chicken and turkey stuffing, sausages, fish, vegetables, and some egg dishes. The fresh or dried leaves can also be steeped for tea.
: (Artemisia dracunculus sativa Also known as French tarragon, the plant is native to western Asia and widely cultivated in southern Europe for its volatile oil known commercially as estragon oil. The sweet, anise-scented herb belongs to the aster family and is used as a flavoring and scenting agent. The dried leaves should be stored in sealed glass containers to prevent loss of its oils. The young, licorice-flavored tarragon leaves are added to green salads, while the dried or crushed leaves are used in salad dressings, salad vinegars, fish sauces, tartar sauce, pickles, tarragon mustard, and some egg dishes.
: (Thymus vulgaris) This common English or French thyme is native to south-central Europe and is widely cultivated in France, Germany, and Spain. The fresh leaves are used in salads while the dried leaves are usually blended with other herbs. However, both fresh and dried are widely used for flavoring in stuffing (especially poultry), soups, cheese, vinegar, gravies, egg dishes, clam chowder, and sausages.
: (Armoracia rusticana) Horseradish is considered to have originated in southern Russia and eastern Ukraine but is now growing wild throughout Europe and North America. The plant, growing up to 5 feet in height is mainly cultivated for its large, white, tapering roots, although the young leaves are edible and can be used in salads or as a potherb. The horseradish root itself has very little aroma, but when cut or grated, enzymes from the damaged plant cells break down “sinigrin” (a glucosinolate) to produce mustard oil, which irritates the sinuses and eyes.
The root itself is used as a vegetable or ground in a condiment called prepared horseradish. However, once grated or ground, if it is not used immediately or mixed in vinegar, it becomes dark and loses its pungency and becomes unpleasantly bitter. Ground horseradish is occasionally blended with cream (horseradish sauce) and served with roast or boiled beef, or with sausages or fish. Before pepper and chilies became widely available, horseradish and mustard were the only sharp spices known in Europe.
: (Houttuynia cordata) Houttuynia, also known as the chameleon herb, lizard tail and heartleaf, is native to Japan, southern China, and Southeast Asia where it is grown as both a leaf and root vegetable. It is a very primitive plant dating back to the age of the dinosaurs. The plant inhabits moist, shady places, and grows between 10 to 30 inches in height. The leaves and tender shoots are harvested in the spring when about 3 to 4 inches long. Plants from Japan have an orange scent while those from China have a strong coriander scent and a noticeable fishy taste. Houttuynia is used in salads, soups, fish stews, cooked like spinach, or boiled with fertilized duck eggs. The white roots are cleaned and cut into lengths to make a spicy substitute for bean sprouts. While popular in Asian cuisine, it is not a popular herb within the United States. Houttuynia is usually home grown and rarely available commercially.
: (Helianthus tuberosus) The Jerusalem artichoke, also known as Sunroot, Topinambour, or Sunchoke™, is a type of sunflower native to America and grown throughout the temperate world for its tuber, which is used as a root vegetable. The name Jerusalem is a corruption of girasole (turning toward the sun), the Italian name for sunflower. The tubers are gnarly and uneven, vaguely resembling ginger root, with a crisp texture when raw. Unlike most tubers, these tubers store the carbohydrate “inulin” instead of starch. For that reason, they are valuable as a source of fructose for diabetics.
Jerusalem artichokes are usually sold in produce departments of supermarkets under the trade name of Sunchoke. The freshest roots are plump and fresh in appearance. If left too long in the open, they will become wrinkled, soft, and develop a bitter taste. The tubers are used raw in salads, or steamed, fried, baked, pickled, pureed, or used in soups, casseroles and pies. Raw, they are an excellent substitute for water chestnuts in hot and spicy stir fries, or they are cooked in cream soups, broiled with sweet potatoes, or simply scrubbed and baked. Fresh, the Jerusalem artichokes have a delightful sweet, nutty flavor and are a little crunchy when you bite into it. At the present time, Jerusalem artichokes are grown more as a novelty vegetable rather than commercially for the food market.
: (Pachyrhizus erosus) Jicama, also known Yam bean, Mexican water chestnut, Potato bean, or Saa got, is native to Mexico and South America. There are two main varieties; jicama de leche which contains a milky juice and jicama de agua which has a clear juice. Traders from Spain introduced it to Southeast Asia in the 17th Century where it became immensely popular and is now cultivated throughout the sub-tropical and tropical areas of the world. Jicama is a type of climbing vine grown for its fleshy, edible tubers (thick underground stems) and will grow to a huge vine, 20 to 30 feet in length. Although the roots are edible, the stems, pods, and leaves are extremely toxic; especially the pods and seeds. The stems, leaves, pods, and seeds contain a chemical compound called “rotenone” which is a natural insecticide. Natives use the crushed seeds as a fish poison. When cast over the surface of a lake or river, the rotenone affects their gills depriving them of oxygen and the stunned fish rise to the surface where they are easily caught.
The jicama plant produces from one to several tubers, which are round like beets or long and slender like icicles. The root's exterior is light brown and papery, with an interior that is creamy white with a crisp texture that resembles that of a raw potato or pear. The flavor is sweet and starchy. Jicama tubers weigh from 1/2 pound to five pounds when harvested. Some roots become extremely large after several years of growth and can weigh up to 50 pounds. The jicama sold in the supermarkets however, averages between three and five pounds. In some areas jicama is considered a street food, like samosas (vegetable filled pastry) in India, where it is sold fresh on the street with a dash of lemon and chilli.
Generally, the crisp, juicy, sweet tubers are prepared and eaten like a potato; baked, grilled, boiled, fried or roasted. However, unlike the potato, it can be eaten raw and is often served in salads; slivered. Notable raw jícama dishes include popiah and salads such as yusheng and rojak. Their crunchy texture is retained, even after cooking, which makes them a popular substitute for water chestnuts. Jicamas are rich in calcium, iron, vitamin C, and protein and composed of 86-90% water; it contains only trace amounts of protein and lipids. Its sweet flavor comes from the inulin (fructo-oligosaccharide), which the human body does not metabolize; this makes it ideal for diabetics and dieters. Jicama is available year-round and usually found in most large food stores.
: (Brassica oleracea acephala grp.) Kale, also known as Flowering kale or Flowering cabbage is thought to be native to the eastern Mediterranean area or to Asia Minor. Apparently all the principal forms of kales and collards we know today have been available for at least 2,000 years. Wild forms have become widely distributed and are found along the coasts of northern Europe and Britain. The Greeks grew kale and collards, although they made no such distinction between them as we do today. Kale is divided into groups based on the shape of the leaf. Cultivars with smooth leaf margins make up the flowering cabbage group while those with "fringed" leaf margins are considered flowering kale. The difference between collards and kale is in the leaf shape, length of the stem, color, and flavor. While collards have a medium green color, smooth texture, and an oval shape; the kale has dark, grayish green, broad leaves with a crinkled texture and quite bitter in taste.
The first American mention of coleworts (kale) was by Sprigley of Virginia in 1669. Kale" is a Scottish word derived from "coles" or "caulis"; terms used by the Greeks and Romans in referring to the whole cabbage-like group of plants. Kale is used in the same manner as collards, the leaves are eaten boiled, steamed, sautéed, as a garnish, or added to soups and stews. In Ireland, kale is served in a dish known as “colcannon,” which is made from potatoes, leeks, and milk or cream. Unopened flower clusters (called broccolini) are often used in Italian or Asian cuisines.
Kale Flowering: (Brassica oleracea acephala grp) This is another cultivar of the kale species. The attractive leaves of this plant range in shades of pink, rose, magenta and white, to creamy-yellow. The outer leaves are often in shades of blue-gray-green to bronze. The two-toned or multi-colored leaves make a spectacular show during the fall and early winter months, with the colors intensifying after a light frost. The broad leaves are usually wrinkled along the edges, giving the plants an attractive, ruffled appearance which only adds to their appeal. Although the plant is not usually used for food, when properly cut and trimmed, they make a beautiful centerpiece for special occasions, or for holding dips and snacks. Kale is available commercially year-round.
: (Brassica oleracea gongylodes grp.) No one is positive of kohlrabi’s origin and there are no certain identifications of kohlrabi in Greek, Roman or other early literature. The first record of kohlrabi was in 1554 by Matthiolus, a European botanist, and by the end of the 16th century, it was being cultivated in Germany, England, Italy, Spain, Tripoli, and the eastern Mediterranean. It was believed to be grown on a large scale in Ireland in 1734, Scotland in 1805; England in 1837, and in the United States, the first record of it was in 1806.
The kohlrabi plant is recognized by a thickening of the stem above the ground, while all other tuber-forming Brassicas produce them underground. Often misclassified as a root vegetable, the edible part most used is the swollen, turnip-like stem section growing just above the soil line. Kohlrabi has the best and mildest flavor (resembling mild, light green turnips) when small; up to 3 inches in diameter. Unfortunately, many gardeners allow it to grow too large before harvesting it. Large, older kohlrabies are tough or woody and may have an off-flavor.
The raw, swollen, fleshy turnip-like stems are sliced and used in salads or marinades or boiled, steamed, braised, sautéed, added to soups or stews, or cooked and served with Hollandaise or other sauces. The young leaves are edible and can be added to soups and stews, or served as a vegetable. Kohlrabi is grown commercially on a limited scale and is generally available during the summer and late fall months.
: (Brassica rapa perviridis grp.) Frequently referred to as spinach mustard or Japanese mustard, this tasty green is native to Japan. Komatsuna can be eaten at any stage and usually grows to be quite large and can reach a height of 10 to 15 inches in just twenty days after planting. The young, dark green, glossy, and thin leaves offer a pleasant turnip-like flavor. The leaves are used raw in salads, stir-fried, pickled, or used in soups. In Japan, they are used in a New Year’s ceremonial rice-cake soup, zôni. The light green stalks are also very tender and delicious, and chefs say tiny komatsuna is perfect for adding eye-appeal to mixed green salads. Komatsuna is ideal as garnish for a variety of foods, salads and sandwiches. Komatsuna is generally available in Asian or specialty produce markets.
: (Pueraria lobata) Kudzu is native to China and approximately 17 species of kudzu are known throughout the world, from China, to Taiwan, Japan, and India. For over 2,000 years, oriental cultures have found many uses for kudzu. Early Chinese records tell of kudzu roots being dried and diced for medicinal purposes and kudzu fiber from the stems was used in making "grass" cloth and paper. During the 18th Century, it was imported into Japan where the roots were ground into flour for use in making cakes.
In the 1930s, kudzu reached the height of its prominence. The Soil Erosion Service, established by Congress in 1933 was directed to reduce soil erosion in the South caused by poor agricultural practices and extensive cotton production. About 85 million seedlings were given to southern landowners for land revitalization and to reduce soil erosion. The government offered up to $8 per acre as an incentive for farmers to plant their land in kudzu. By 1946, about 3 million acres of kudzu had been planted. This is another example of a government program that went wrong.
Kudzu is a vine that when left uncontrolled will eventually grow over almost any fixed object that is close, including other vegetation. The flowers which bloom in late summer have a very pleasant fragrance and the shapes and forms created by kudzu vines growing over trees and bushes can be pleasing to the eye. If left uncontrolled over a period of several years, it will kill trees by blocking the sunlight. It has now become a serious pest in the South, especially in Georgia and Alabama and into Florida where it was first introduced as a forage crop.
Kudzu tap roots are massive, and the vines can grow up to 60 feet in a single season, and as much as 1 foot during a single day in early summer. The tuberous roots can reach a depth of 12 feet in older patches and weigh as much as 200 to 300 pounds. "Kudzu powder" is a remarkable starch-like extract of the kudzu root. The powder comes in crumbly white chunks and is used in Japan as a key ingredient in fine cuisine. The powder can be used like arrowroot or cornstarch as a thickener in sauces or soups, or as a crispy coating for deep-fried foods like agar or gelatin. It can also be used as a jelling agent for confections and desserts. The tender young leaves make a delicious vegetable for salads, soups, sautéed dishes, and casseroles. Unfortunately, kudzu as a food source has never been utilized in the American diet and at the present time, is not grown commercially.
: (Barbarea vulgaris) Also known as winter-cress, American cress or Herbe de Sainte Barbe, the plant is well known for its very strong flavored leaves, which are generally used in salads or soups. There are many species native to Europe and Asia, with only one species (Barbarea orthoceras) native to North America, northern Japan, and eastern Siberia. All species seem to prefer damp places along river banks or marshes. Land cress has been cultivated as a salad crop since the 17th century and was used as a substitute for watercress when running water was unavailable. Land cress leaves are chopped and added to salads, cooked as a vegetable, or used in soups, sautés, pastas, and au gratin dishes. Mature leaves are used to flavor cakes and as a sauce base known as panada. Commercially grown land cress is available occasionally in supermarket specialty produce sections.
: (Allium ampeloprasum porrum grp.) Believed to be native to the Mediterranean area and Asia, leeks have been cultivated for more than 3,000 years and have long been popular in Europe. After the children of Israel left Egypt, leeks were one of the foods mentioned in the book of Numbers in the Bible as being greatly missed. They were prized by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans who helped distribute the vegetable across Europe. The leek is one of the national emblems of Wales, whose citizens wear it on St. David's Day. According to legend, King Cadwallader ordered his Welsh soldiers to identify themselves by wearing leeks on their helmets in a battle against the Saxons that took place on that day in a leek field.
The leek is a vegetable belonging to the Alliaceae (onion) family. Rather than forming a tight bulb such as the onion, the leek produces a long cylinder of bundled leaf sheaths which are generally blanched by trenching (pushing soil around them). The edible portions are the white onion base and light green stalk and they are an essential ingredient of “vichyssoise”, a thick cream soup made with potatoes and leeks and usually served cold. Leeks are also used raw in salads, doing especially well when they are the principal ingredient. Because of their symbolism in Wales they are used extensively in that country's cuisine. For general use, the leeks are steamed, boiled, or braised much like asparagus and the stems are thinly sliced for use in salads. They are excellent in omelets and as a separate vegetable dish. Leeks are a good source of potassium, vitamin A and C, and a 3 ½ ounce serving of raw leeks contains 52 calories. Leeks are available year-round from California, Texas, and Florida.
: (cymbopogon citratus) Lemon grass is native to India and Sri Lanka and is best known for its use in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. Also known as Sereh, Takkrai, and Ti de lemon, it is widely used as an herb and gives a lemon flavor to many dishes without overpowering them, and it won't turn bitter with long cooking. When purchasing, select lemon grass by looking for firm stalks with leaves that appear fresh, since dried out leaves have very little flavor. When preparing lemon grass, peel off and discard one or two of the woody exterior leaves. For cooking, use only the lower 5 inches of the stalk and slice it very thin for crushing or mincing for use in recipes. The tender inner core can be chopped like scallions for use in Oriental, poultry, fish, and seafood dishes. The actual blades of lemon grass are very tough but can be steeped for a refreshing tea or dried for potpourri. The outer leaves are also tied in a loop and cooked with food to enhance the flavor, then removed prior to serving. The tender inner core is often served as a vegetable with rice. Lemon grass is usually available in Asian markets or specialty shops.
: (Lens culinaris) Native to southwest Asia, lentils is the cold hardiest legume grown. No other legume surpasses it; it replaces all others in these conditions. It is among the world's oldest cultivated foods and in Iraq; archaeologists have found lentils nearly 6,000 years old. The Egyptians were utilizing the lentil as early as 5000 years ago and an offering of mashed lentils was found in an Egyptian tomb. Lentil pods grow on a vine type plant with long, thin leaves and the seeds come in colors ranging from orange to pink to grayish green.
Lentil soup, a particularly healthy dish, was a French favorite for centuries. Originally grown as a food of the poor, the tiny legume is crammed with protein, fiber, iron and potassium. It is unknown how the lentil came to America, but the Iroquois Indians of the St. Lawrence Valley were growing them during the early 1700's.
With 25% protein, lentil is the vegetable with the highest level of protein except for soybeans. They also have a short cooking time (especially for small varieties) and a distinctive earthy flavor. Lentils are parched and eaten or used in soups, stews, casseroles, curries, purées, and stuffing. Lentil flour mixed with cereal flour is used for making bread. The immature pods are eaten fresh or cooked like string beans and the sprouted seeds are widely used in salads, stir-fries, and vegetable dishes. Lentils are available year-round.
: (Lactuca sativa) Lettuce has been cultivated for centuries in the Mediterranean area and from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics; we can assume it was grown at least four thousand years ago in the Nile Valley. With the vast number of lettuce cultivars now in existence, it is almost impossible to pin-point their exact origins. The wild predecessor of our modern lettuce, Lactuca serriola, can still be seen all over Europe and the more temperate parts of Asia. Ancient Greeks and Romans were very fond of lettuce, not so much as a culinary delight, but for medicinal properties. Lactucarium, a mild opiate-like substance is contained in all types of lettuce. Supposedly, the Romans took advantage of this characteristic by eating lettuce at the end of a meal to induce sleep.
The genitor of modern varieties of Cos (romaine) lettuce came from the Greek island of Kos, where it was introduced from North Africa. It is believed that the first colonists to arrive in America brought at least two or three types of lettuce seed with them. Until 1896, there were very few varieties from which to choose, then with the introduction of the Iceberg (crisphead) cultivar, production of lettuce began on a commercial scale. This particular cultivar was well suited to the climate of Southwestern United States and quickly became the basis for large scale commercial production. From less than 600 acres in 1910, the acreage grew to 19,000 acres in less than ten years. According to California’s historian, Burton Anderson, the success of head lettuce in the Southwest was due to three factors; ideal climate, refrigerated rail cars, and aggressive marketing. By the turn of this century, 97% of all head lettuce is grown in California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. California is the leading producer of lettuce with an estimated 70-75% of the total U.S. production of iceberg lettuce and 80-85% of leaf lettuce.
Head lettuce is a solid, tight-leafed, mild flavored, crisp-textured, plant and by far the most popular form of lettuce in the United States. In Western cultures it is most often used as a leaf vegetable and normally used raw in salads, sandwiches, hamburgers, tacos, etc. In China and other eastern cultures, lettuce is usually used for cooking and the stem is as important as the leaf. In addition to being a source of fiber, lettuce contains vitamin A and is very low in calories. One of the largest lettuce heads ever grown was in 1974 by Colin Bowcock of Willaston, England, which weighed 25 pounds. Lettuce is available year-round.
Following are three of the more popular varieties.
: (Lactuca sativa ssps.) Also known as Butter lettuce or Boston lettuce, Bibb lettuce received its name from John Bibb, who developed the cultivar in Kentucky from Boston lettuce in the 1850s. The two best known varieties of this lettuce are Bibb and Boston, with Boston’s leaves being wider and lighter green than Bibb’s. This cultivar of lettuce is widely appreciated for its delicate flavor, particularly in Europe. The tender large leaves are excellent for salads and sandwiches. To enhance its flavor and nutritional value in salads, try combining it with several different types of more strongly flavored greens, such as watercress, arugula, sorrel, radicchio and fennel. Bibb lettuce also contains lactucarium, a mild opiate that helps in treating insomnia. Bibb lettuce is rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and vitamins A, B, C and K. Bibb or Boston lettuce is available year-round from California, Texas, Arizona, and Florida.
: (Lactuca sativa ssps.) Also known as Red Leaf or Green Leaf, these loose-heading, broad-leafed lettuces take their names from the way they grow and the way their leaves branch out from the stem, rather than forming heads. Their colors range from deep red, bronze, dark and light green, to chartreuse, with leaf textures that are smooth and puckered to those that are ruffled and frilled. The red leaf is mild and almost buttery, while the green leaf is more subtle and somewhat sweet. They are usually paired with more strongly flavored greens, such as watercress, arugula, sorrel, radicchio and fennel. Loose-leaf lettuce is available year-round from California, Texas, Arizona, and Florida.
Unlike most lettuces, romaine is tolerant of heat and performs very well in the Southwest areas of the United States. Romaine has long, upright, crisp leaves with a distinctive midrib almost to the tip, with the tip being blunt. The leaves are somewhat folded (cupped) and grouped into loose heads, with the interior leaves being more delicate and blanched than those toward the exterior. Romaine is the lettuce of choice for Caesar salads; its full textured leaves give it enough body to hold the Caesar dressing while still containing a healthy crunch to the bite.
Raw, the tall, elongated leaves have a mildly bitter taste, just enough to add zest to salads. Romaine is generally used in salads, sandwiches, and as a garnish. One and one-half cup of shredded romaine lettuce contains about 15 calories. It is rich in nutrients, fat-free, and provides protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and dietary fiber. Almost all romaine lettuce grown commercially in the United States is produced in California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida, with California leading in production. Romaine is available year-round.
: (Glycyrrhiza glabra) The licorice plant is indigenous to China and India and a member of the bean family (Fabaceae). The root, especially the root bark, contains about 4% glycyrrhizin and potassium or calcium salt of glycyrrhizinic acid. Glycyrrhizin is about 50 times sweeter than sucrose (cane sugar). The word (licorice) is derived from the Ancient Greek words for “sweet root.” Licorice was always used more as a medicine than as a spice and its usage against diseases of the upper respiratory tract dates back to ancient Egypt. Licorice is the base of traditional candies of Northern Europe, particularly Northern Germany: (Lakritz in Germany and Scandinavia) and (salmiakki in Finland).
Licorice flavor is found in a wide variety of candies and is one of the most popular in candy in England. In continental Europe, however, far stronger, saltier candies are preferred. It should be noted though, that in most, the taste is reinforced by aniseed oil. Additionally, licorice is found in some soft drinks (such as root beer), and in some herbal teas where it provides a sweet aftertaste. Licorice flavor is common in some medicines to disguise their unpleasant flavors.
Licorice root is also popular in southern Italy where the root of the plant is simply dug up, washed and chewed as mouth-freshener. Throughout most of Italy, unsweetened licorice is eaten in the form of small black pieces made from 100% pure licorice extract; the taste is bitter and intense. In past times in Britain and the Netherlands, dried licorice root was chewed as a sweet by children. Chinese cuisine uses licorice as a culinary spice for savory foods. It is often employed to flavor broths and foods simmered in soy sauce.
: (Nelumbo nucifera) (Nelumbium nelumbo) Also known as lily root, Indian lotus, Egyptian lotus, lian, lin ngau, hasu, and renkon, this perennial aquatic plant of East Indian origin was brought to China and Egypt thousands of years ago. From China it migrated to other parts of Asia including Japan and northern Australia.
The plant, known for its beautiful flowers, is mainly grown for the edible storage rhizomes (24 to 48 inches long and 2 to 3 ½ inches in diameter). The rhizomes appear segmented because the diameter at the nodule is from 1/3 to 1/2 the diameter of the internode (a space between two joints). The segment (joint) is long and somewhat tapered, with the lengths of the segments decreasing in distance from the original segment. The number of segments varies from 2 to 6. The large, cream-colored, sausage-shaped rhizomes have ten large elongated air sacs contained within. When cut crosswise, the slices are reminiscent of a snowflake or a slice of Swiss cheese.
Chinese people make use of all parts of this plant; the roots, fruit, seeds (eaten cooked or raw) and the leaves, which are often used as wrappers. Traditional Chinese medicine considers the lotus plant seed as very important and its consumption is supposed to help liver function and to strengthen the heart, spleen, and stomach. Fresh lotus seeds, both mature and immature, can be eaten raw. The dried seeds called “lotus nuts” must be boiled until soft. They are crystallized with sugar as part of Chinese New Year sweet offerings, used in a sweet soup, or made into sweetened lotus nut paste which is sold in cans and used as a filling for Chinese moon cakes.
The cut or grated root is used in salads and stir-fries or baked, boiled, cooked in soups or stews, fried like a potato, or served as a vegetable dish. When sliced quite thin, the lotus root makes a showy garnish. Since the rhizome discolors easily when cut; as soon as it is peeled and sliced, it should be put into water in which lemon juice or citric acid has been added. The points between the sections should be sliced off and discarded. A cup of cooked lotus root has a mere 79 calories, only a trace of fat, and is rich in Vitamin C and dietary fiber.
: (Lepidium meyenii) Maca belongs to the mustard family (Brassicaceae) and is another plant that is native to the high areas of the Andes Mountains. The Spanish, who arrived in the highlands of Peru during the Conquest, reported that maca was widely used, although today it is found only in the Puna region. At an elevation of 13,500 feet, Puna is one of the coldest areas to cultivate crops in the Andes. Maca is one of the few Puna plants to be domesticated.
The sweet, pleasant flavored roots resemble a small pear in both size and shape. The fresh roots are frequently baked in underground pits. After being dried they are cooked and mixed with water or milk to form a porridge called mazzamorra or mixed with other liquids to form a butterscotch-like drink. The roots are also placed in rum (aguardiente) to give it a special flavor and aroma, and the native Andeans feed maca leaves to their guinea pigs, which are a protein source in the Andes.
Unfortunately, a number of these native, highly selected, well adapted, and nutritious food crops are in danger of being lost. With the introduction of “modern” foods such as rice and other processed foods, many natives are abandoning cultivation of their own adapted grains and tubers. In the process, they are losing the valuable cultivars that have sustained them over the centuries. At the present time, maca is not grown commercially and available only where grown.
: (Valerianella locusta) Also known as corn salad, fetticus, lamb's lettuce and nut lettuce, mache has been used as an herb since ancient times and is now grown extensively throughout Europe as a salad vegetable. It is believed to be native to Europe and the Mediterranean region. Before French farmers began cultivating it in the 17th century, mache was harvested from fields where it grew among crops like corn, rye, and wheat, hence one of its common names, corn salad.
The plant is 6 to 12 inches in height with a bright green color and the square succulent stems have a distinctive opposite forking habit; the stem forks and then each new stem forks again in the opposite direction, this continues from the base to the very top of the plant. The sweet, crisp, slightly nutty tasting leaves have a very mild and delicate flavor and are excellent for complimenting strongly flavored greens like cress and dandelions. They are used in potato salads, soups, vegetable purees and omelets or lightly cooked or blanched, then seasoned and eaten as a pot herb. Mache contains high amounts of Vitamins B1 and C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, protein, and carbohydrates and is an excellent source of fiber. Mache is not grown on a large scale in the United States, but is available at various times through specialty markets.
: (Xanthosoma sagittifolium) Malanga, also known as yautia, malanga blanco, or cocoyam is native to the highlands of Central America and the West Indies. It was one of the first plants recorded by the Spaniards when they landed in the West Indies. The cultivation of the Xanthosoma species, especially malanga (Xanthosoma sagittifolium), tannia (Xanthosoma atroviren), primrose malanga (Xanthosoma violaceum), and mafaffa (Xanthosoma maffaffa), is believed to have originated in the northern lowlands of South America then spread to the Antilles, West Indies, and Mesoamerica. From there it migrated to Africa; probably through the slave trade. West Africa is now a major producer and malanga is currently used as a replacement for yams in a popular topical dish called “fufu.” Malanga is also a popular crop in the Philippines, but especially so in Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Malanga is widely grown throughout the tropics. It was grown on a small scale in South Florida for many years, and then on a limited commercial scale in 1963 to meet the demands of Latin Americans living there. In 1985 there were about 2,500 acres of malanga grown in Florida and by 1991, along with calabaza and boniato; almost 14,000 acres of "tropical vegetables" were grown.
Generally, malanga resembles taro and the elephant-ear plant, with large green leaves about 2 feet in width by 3 feet in length. The main difference in leaf shape between taro and malanga is the taro’s leaf stem joins the leaf blade away from the edge of the leaf, whereas the malanga's stem attaches at the notched edge of the leaf. The plant may attain a height of 5 feet or more and a central large tuber is formed at the base with a cluster of grayish-brown to black lateral tubers around it.
Malanga roots are often confused with taro roots (dasheen). The roots may be shaped like an elongated yam or curved with the likeness of a club and they range in size from 1/2-pound to 3 or more pounds. The thin skin is patchy, brown and shaggy, with beige, yellowish, or reddish flesh that has a slippery, crisp texture. The flavor has been described as slightly earthy and nut-like. The starchy tubers are used like potatoes and utilized in a popular Caribbean soup called Callaloo. The tubers (corms) are peeled and then eaten boiled, baked, pureed, cut into pieces for soups and stews, sliced for chips, or used in pancakes or fritters. Malangas are a good source of vitamin C, iron, riboflavin, and thiamin; a one-half cup of cooked malanga contains approximately 135 calories. Malangas are available year-round from Florida, Mexico and South America.
: (Malva verticillata) Native to eastern Asia, the mallow plant has had a long history of cultivation in China where it is still used today. Mallow was one of the first plants to be domesticated in China and by 500 AD; it was an important vegetable in their culture. It has not been established as to when and how the plant migrated to Europe and the United States where it was once grown in vegetable gardens. The young leaves have a mild, very pleasant flavor and are used raw in salads or both leaves and shoots are lightly boiled and served like spinach, or they are used to enhance soups. Mallow is not grown commercially in the United States but it is occasionally available through Asian or specialty markets.
The version of marshmallows which is most similar to what we see today was first made in France around 1850 and was called “pate de guimauve.” They were made with mallow root sap, gelatin, egg whites, corn syrup, and water and the boiled mixture was placed in special molds coated in corn starch to prevent sticking. This manufacturing technique ceased in the 1900's with the innovation of the “starch mogul system.” The roots of the plant are still in use today as a vegetable. They are boiled, sliced, and fried with onions, used in making an herbal tea, or used as a substitute for egg whites in meringue or chiffon pies. The leaves also used in soups. At the present time, the marsh mallow plant is not grown commercially for the fresh market.
: (Mirabilis expansa) Mauka or chago is cultivated as a root vegetable in the Andes; at altitudes above 8,000 feet. It was an important root crop to the Inca Empire and was considered a "lost" crop until the 1960's. With the approach of winter, the ground portion dies back with frost, but the root is quite hardy. Mauka grows to a height of 40 inches, and bears edible tuberous roots that can reach the size of a man's forearm, with a dry weight composition of 7% protein and 87% carbohydrate. The roots of some can irritate the mucus membranes, and should be sun-dried and boiled prior to eating in order to eliminate the irritating substance. Bolivian forms are more often irritating than Ecuadoran forms. The cooking water of the mauka makes a satisfying sweet drink while the leaves may be eaten as a leaf vegetable or used raw in salads. Once the root has been exposed to the sun the astringent, bitter taste is replaced with sweetness. In one of the traditional preparations, the boiled roots are mixed with honey and toasted grain. Ecuadorians have both sweet and salty preparations.
: (Mentha spicata) (Mentha piperita) There are several varieties of mints, including the curly-leaf mint, apple mint, and orange mint, but only the spearmint “Mentha spicata” and peppermint “Mentha piperita”, are the ones in general use as flavoring agents. Mint is mentioned in early medieval plants lists; they were grown in early English gardens, and were brought to Britain during the time it was occupied by the Romans. Apicius, in his famous cook book written in the first century, lists mints in many dishes. Charlemagne (742-814) decreed in 812 that mint, together with other herbs, be grown in his famous gardens of seventy-eight herbs.
: (Cryptotaenia japonica) Mitsuba, also known as Japanese parsley, San ye qin, or San ip, is native to Japan, China, and Korea where it grows wild. It is considered to be one of their more important herbs and is found in many of their traditional dishes. The green, cress-like, young seedlings are used in salads and the stems and leaves are chopped and used to flavor a number of dishes. The unique flavor of its leaves and leafstalks (said to be a combination of sorrel and celery), either fresh or blanched, is pleasing in soups, salads, fried foods and as a garnish for fish recipes. Mitsuba is usually available in Asian markets or specialty food shops.
: Mushrooms are fungi, and fungi are the fruit of an organism which grows either in the ground or on an organic substratum that is either living or dead. According to the Egyptian Hieroglyphics of 4600 years ago, the ancient Egyptians believed mushrooms were the plant of immortality. The pharaohs of Egypt were so intrigued with them; they decreed mushrooms were food for royalty and gods, and that no commoner could ever touch them. Mushroom cultivation can be traced back to the 1600s in Europe but it wasn’t until the 18th century that mushroom cultivation techniques began to form. France is believed to be the leader in the formal cultivation of mushrooms. Around the time of Louis XIV, mushrooms were grown in special caves near Paris where they produced the “champignons de Paris”.
Modern mushroom cultivation in the United States began in Pennsylvania in 1896. At first, mushrooms were grown as a side crop to flower production, using the dark spaces underneath potting tables. But as demand grew, special “growing houses” were needed to control the environmental conditions necessary for production growing. Even with these new growing houses, mushrooms were still not as commonly available as they are now. Growing was still limited by the temperature and humidity of season, so mushrooms were planted in the fall and harvested in winter and spring, leaving little for summer consumption. Since then, great advances have been made in the production of mushrooms. With new techniques in growing, humidity and environment controls, plus some mechanization, production has advanced immensely. In recent years, consumption of commercially grown mushrooms in the U.S. has been in the 750 million pound range. There are hundreds of regularly harvested edible mushrooms in the world. Some species are highly prized because they are not or cannot be cultivated and must be harvested from natural settings. A word of warning; extreme caution should be used when picking wild mushrooms, even experts are sometimes fooled by look-a-like deadly poisonous mushrooms.
A few of the most commonly used edible mushrooms are:
: (Agaricus bisporus) The button mushroom, also known as “champignons,” are the most extensively cultivated mushroom in the world, accounting for 38% of the world production of cultivated mushrooms. This species also includes the Crimini mushroom (a revival of the California brown) and the Portobello mushroom (which is the same mushroom but has been allowed to grow to a greater size). This is the common mushroom found in food stores. They are sliced and eaten raw in salads, or sautéed, stuffed, marinated, fried, or used in sauces, gravies, and soups. Button mushrooms are available year-round in markets, either as a fresh or dried product.
: (Cantharellus cibarius) Also known as Golden chanterelle or Girolle, the chanterelle is one of the best and most easily recognizable mushrooms. Having a shape that is similar to the curved bell of a trumpet with ribs, it has a fruit-like aroma and is one of the most famous and highly valued mushrooms. The flesh is firm, light yellow in color, with a truly delicious flavor. They are used in soups, stews, omelets, grain dishes, sauces, or sautéed in butter. The dried powder is known as gold dust and sprinkled on omelets, salads, pastas, and soups. Caution should be used when searching for wild ones since there are several types of very poisonous mushrooms that are similar in appearance. Chanterelle mushrooms are available year-round in markets, either as a fresh or dried product.
: (Volvariella volvacea) Also known as the Paddy straw mushroom, they account for 16% of total production of cultivated mushrooms in the world. These are regarded as the most popular mushroom in China. Considered a delicacy, they are used in all manner of cooking, from soups, sauces, stews, casseroles and omelets, to steamed or stir-fried dishes. The mushrooms are available year-round, in either fresh or dried form, or as a canned product in Chinese or specialty markets.
: (Flammulina velutipes) Also known as Enoki-take, Velvet stem, or winter mushroom, the enoki mushroom is the only cultivated mushroom that looks different from its wild form. There is some confusion as to whether it is native to Japan or to the North American forests. Unlike other mushrooms, enoki is marketed in clumps rather than singular and is currently produced commercially in California. The crisp, mild-flavored, creamy-white mushroom is sliced and used raw in salads and sandwiches. They are also boiled, sautéed, used in sukiyaki, and as a garnish for clear soups and broth. Enoki mushrooms are available year-round in markets, either as a fresh or dried product.
: (Grifola frondosa) Also known as Mai-take mushroom or Chick of the Woods, they are usually found on or near stumps and bases of oak trees. They are large and can be exceptionally large (up to two feet wide), with many overlapping caps. This is supposed to be one of the truly delicious mushrooms, but some consumers have had a bad reaction after eating them. The mushrooms must be cooked prior to using them. They are used in soups and stews, or dipped in batter and deep fried. Hen of the woods mushrooms are occasionally found in Asian or specialty food markets.
: (Morchella esculenta) Also known as the yellow morel, they are usually found in open scrub, woodland or open ground in late spring. When collecting this mushroom, care must be taken to identify it from the poisonous false morel, Gyromitra esculenta. Morels are the most sought after mushroom in the Pacific Northwest, although they are also found in Michigan and Wisconsin. Their shape is similar to a pine cone while the cap has a honeycomb texture that is light brown to black in color. The flavor is strong, earthy, and should not be used as a raw ingredient. Their meaty texture and rich flavor makes the morel one of the best of all edible fungi. They can be stuffed and baked, sautéed in butter, simmered in soup stock or cream, used in sauces, or combined with meat, pasta, and poultry dishes. Unfortunately fresh morels are seldom found in food markets but occasionally, packets of dried morels are available.
: (Pleurotus ulmarius) Also known as Japanese oyster mushroom, Shemeji, or Hira-take, these mushrooms are the second most important cultivated mushrooms in production in the world, accounting for 25% of total world production. Oyster mushrooms grow world-wide, with China being the major producer. Their young caps are black to gray, changing to a light brown as they mature. The very young clusters are occasionally harvested for use in Japanese gourmet cooking. The stems are a bit chewier than other mushrooms. They can be used raw but they have a better flavor cooked and are generally used with meat, omelets, and stews. Oyster mushrooms are available year-round in markets, either as a fresh or dried product.
: (Boletus edulis) The porcini mushroom is also known as the King bolete, cep, or Steinpilz and is famous for its nut-like flavor. The grayish-brown mushroom has a delicate flavor and texture, and is used with meat, omelets, soups, and stews. They are quite perishable and should be used as soon as possible. They are found occasionally in Asian or specialty food markets.
: (Coprinus comatus) The shaggy mane mushroom is not available commercially but very common in urban and suburban areas from spring to early winter. They should be prepared as quickly as possible after harvesting or they will dissolve into a black inky mass. The firm caps have a distinct taste and are very good baked, cooked with eggs, or sautéed in butter. The shaggy mane mushroom is not grown commercially.
: (Lentinus edodes ) Also known as the Oak mushroom, they are largely produced in Japan, China and South Korea and account for 10% of total world production. These are large umbrella-shaped mushrooms that are brownish-black in color and have a meaty flavor, which makes them a good choice for meat dishes. The shiitake mushroom is used raw in salads or sliced and added to soups, stir-fried, meat dishes, or broiled. Dried ones are used the same after soaking in warm water or they are shredded and used in soup stock. They are an essential ingredient in “sushi” and used in omelets, sauces, gravies, and pasta dishes. Shiitake mushrooms are available year-round in markets, either as a fresh or dried product.
: (Auricularia auricula- polytricha) Also known as Kikurage, Jew’s Ear, Cloud ears, or Mook yee, wood ear mushrooms look like flattened plates with occasional whorls. They range from the size of a quarter (U.S. coin) to a tea cup saucer. The mushrooms are thick, gelatinous, virtually stem less, and grown commercially in China and the Far East. Although bland and tasteless, they readily absorb the flavors of other foods. They are first dried, and then used in stews, Japanese style sausages or soups, and especially in miso and hot and sour soups. They are occasionally found in Asian or specialty food markets
: (Brassica juncea) Mustard greens, also known as Indian mustard, Gai choi, or karashina, is a member of the Cruciferae family which includes cabbages, broccoli, and turnips, which also includes the mustard varieties that are grown for their tasty leaves; not their seeds. Three varieties of mustard greens produce seeds, which in turn are used in various aspects of cooking. The black mustard seed (Brassica nigra) is the most pungent of the three; (Brassica alba) a native to the Mediterranean region, produces large yellow seeds, and brown mustard (Brassica juncea) is the one used to make Dijon-style mustards.
Mustard greens are extremely high in vitamin A, vitamin C, and Vitamin K. They are fat and cholesterol free, and low in sodium and calories. Their peppery leaves are a rich dark green and have a sharp flavor. Mustard greens are more pungent than closely-related greens (kale, cabbage, collard greens, et cetera) and are frequently mixed with milder greens, including wild greens such as dandelions for salads.
Chinese and Japanese cuisines make much more use of mustard greens than American cuisines. A large variety of these cultivars are grown and enjoyed such as zha cai (tatsoi), mizuna, juk gai choy and hseuh li hung. Asian mustard greens are generally stir-fried or pickled, and an Asian dish called asam gai choy or kiam chai boey is often made with leftovers from a large meal. It involves cooking mustard greens with tamarind, dried chilies, and leftover meat on the bone. Other uses include soups and stews. The pickled leaves are known as sajur asin and hum choy. The seeds are very pungent and are used to season meats and other foods. Mustard greens are available year-round from California, Texas, Arizona, and Florida.
: (Oxalis tuberosa) Oca is the Quechuan word for a perennial plant that is native to the Andes of South America and related to the (Oxalidaceae) family that produces tubers in shades of red, pink, cream, orange, white, and green. Also known as Iribia, Cuiba, or New Zealand yam, it is a domestic crop in the Andes and is usually grown in the same fields with potatoes. Its cultivation ranges from Venezuela to Argentina and parts of Bolivia. Introduced to Europe in 1830 as a competitor to the potato (which ultimately failed) and to New Zealand as early as 1860, it has now become popular in that country under the name New Zealand yam and is a common table vegetable.
The oca is one of the important staple crops of the Andean highlands, second only to the potato due to its easy propagation and tolerance for poor soil, high altitude, and harsh climates. Though the original Andean varieties are widely variable in color, from purple to yellow, the standard New Zealand variety is a fleshy pink. Ocas are fairly high in oxalates, which are concentrated in the skin, but the Andean farmers reduce the oxalate by giving them exposure to sunlight for a week, which also increases the glucose content and sweet taste of the tuber.
Measuring from three to six inches, elongated to round in appearance with shades of different colors, the tubers are a staple in the Andean diet. When served raw, the flavor is similar to the potato with a slightly acidic taste due to its calcium oxalate content. Ocas can be prepared like most root vegetables by being boiled, baked or fried. In the Andes they are sliced and served raw in salads, boiled in soups and stews, or candied like sweet potatoes. Further drying produces cavi or caya, which is steamed oca mixed with cane syrup or honey and served as a dessert. The tubers are eaten raw in Mexico with salt, lemon and hot pepper. Ocas are now becoming available in limited supply year-round.
: (Hibiscus esculentus) Okra, also known as Gumbo or Lady’s finger, is believed to native to Ethiopia and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan region. One of the earliest accounts of okra is by a Spanish Moor who visited Egypt in 1216. He described the plant in detail as cultivated by the Egyptians, and stated that the pods when young and tender were eaten with a meal. Early records of when okra was introduced in the United States is lacking but is believed to have been brought by African slaves more than two centuries ago. Okra was grown as far north as Philadelphia in 1748 and was known in Virginia prior to the 1800s.
As true with a number of less popular vegetables, many people fail to appreciate okra because they don’t know how to use it. The first mistake that gardeners make is to let the pods become too old and tough before harvesting them. Okra grows very fast, and in hot weather the pods will become unfit to use in less than a week after they start developing. The pods should be harvested when only three to five days old. In recent years okra has become an important commercial crop in the South where large acreage has been set aside for growing them for large soup companies.
Okra pods are rarely used "straight" except when fried with meal or just a little of it being cooked with other vegetables for flavor, or put into soups and stews. Okra is one of the main ingredients in “gumbo,” a spicy, hearty stew or soup found commonly along the Gulf of Mexico in the United States, especially in the southern areas of Louisiana. Okra by itself is generally considered too viscous or mucilaginous to suit American tastes. The pod is easily dried and a little dried okra in prepared dishes gives the same results as the fresh product. The young pods are steamed, boiled, pickled, sautéed, deep fried, and braised. The pods go well with tomatoes, corn, peppers, and eggplant. Whole, fresh okra pods make excellent pickles. Fresh or dried, they are used to thicken soups, stews and sauces. Occasionally the seeds are roasted and ground as a substitute for coffee. Fresh okra is usually available year-round in the Deep South and from May through September in other areas. Processed okra, frozen or canned is generally available in most large food stores.
: (Allium cepa) Onions belong to the Alliaceae family and thought to be native to the Middle East (no one is sure). They are used worldwide and come in a variety of forms and color. In the Palestinian Bronze Age settlements, traces of onion remains were found dating back to 5000 BC. Archaeological and literary evidence indicate cultivation probably took place around two thousand years later in ancient Egypt, and it is believed the workers who built the pyramids were fed radishes and onions. Egyptians worshipped them, believing that its spherical shape and concentric rings symbolized eternal life.
Onions were used in Egyptian burials as they believed that if buried with the dead, the strong scent of them would bring breath back to the dead. Roman gladiators were rubbed down with onions to firm up their muscles. In the middle Ages, onions were such an important food that people would pay for their rent with onions and even gave onions as gifts. Doctors were also known to prescribe onions to end headaches, cure snakebites, and to prevent hair loss. Onions are even mentioned in the Bible's Book of Numbers (11:5) as part of the Egyptian diet and six types of onions were known at the time of Pliny the Elder. The onion was introduced to North America by Christopher Columbus on his 1493 expedition to Haiti.
The genus Allium is a large one and most of the species are considered to be "onions" in the looser sense. Commonly raised vegetable alliums include the leeks, garlic, elephant garlic, chives, shallots, Welsh onions and garlic chives. Onions (usually but not exclusively the bulbs) are edible with a distinctive strong flavor and pungent odor, which is toned down and sweetened by cooking. They generally have a papery outer skin over a fleshy, layered inner core. Onions can be grown from seed, but onion “sets” are the most common used in home gardens. Onion sets are produced by sowing seed very thickly, resulting in stunted plants which produce very small bulbs. These bulbs are very easy to plant and grow into mature bulbs the following year, but they have the reputation of producing a less durable bulb than onions grown directly from seed and thinned.
Depending on the variety, an onion can be sharp and pungent or mild and even sweet. They can range in size, from 1/2 inch (pearl onions) in diameter to over 7 inches in diameter in other varieties. Onions are usually chopped or sliced and used in almost every type of food, including cooked foods or fresh salads and as a condiment or spicy garnish. Some are so sweet they are used as the main ingredient in sandwiches. Most onions are rarely eaten on their own but usually served as an accompaniment to main dishes.
Small onions such as the pearl onion (Cocktail onion) are pickled, used in shish kabobs, or used to garnish drinks such as Martinis and Gibsons. Pearl onions have a mild flavor, come in three colors, red, white or gold and are used whole or sliced in salads, vegetable dishes, casseroles, sauces and meat dishes.
Texas 1015 sweet onion” was developed by a professor at Texas A&M University and named for its planting date of October 15. This yellow “Grano” variety is an extremely mild onion that tends to grow to jumbo sizes and holds up well in storage (up to six months with proper care). Other onions known for their sweet mild flavor are the Vidalia onion, first grown in Toombs County, Georgia in 1931; the Walla Walla Sweet, which is thought to have originated on the island of Corsica and brought to Walla Walla, Washington in the late 1800s; and the Maui Sweet grown on Maui, one of the Hawaiian Islands.
Following are three of the more popular onions being utilized in the United States.
: (Allium fistulosum) Also known as the Welsh onion, Japanese bunching onion, Negi, or Chang fa, bunching onions are produced from the white onion varieties of Allium cepa or Allium fistulosum. Depending on the region of the country, some of the other names used are scallions, green onions, and spring onions. The name"Welsh" is a corruption of the German "walsch" meaning "foreign" and has nothing to do with the country known as Wales. All these names can be used, but in reality, the green bunching onion that one purchases in the supermarkets of today is a different species from the bulb onion (Allium cepa).
The bunching onion is widely cultivated throughout the world; from Siberia to tropical Asia. It produces long cylindrical plants, which are either dividing or non-dividing types. They are generally non-bulbing; however some may develop a slight swelling at the base of the plant. Bunching onions are usually chopped and used in almost every type of food; from fresh leafy salads and potato salads, to an ingredient in soups, stews, casseroles, stir-fries and as a spicy garnish or condiment. The leaves are one of the principal sources of scallions. Bunching onions are available year-round.
: (Allium cepa) The pearl, also known as pickling onion, cocktail onion, boilers, or mini-onions, is a type of bulbing onion grown mostly for pickling or as a cocktail onion. The onion seed is thickly planted, then harvested when very small. They are especially suitable for pickling because they do not develop papery outer skins.
Pearl onions are cultivated in a number of colors; white, gold, and dark red or purple and about the size of a large marble with a mild onion flavor. They are widely used in all kinds of dishes for their flavor, from succotash to sweet flavored relishes. After both ends have been trimmed and the papery covering removed, they are boiled whole, added to soups and stews, or added to creamed dishes such as creamed peas and onions and they make a great addition to salads. Pearl onions are available year-round.
: (Allium cepa ssp) Taxonomically, there is no such thing as a true shallot. Generally, shallot bulbs are about the size of chestnuts, pear-shaped, and narrowed in the upper part into a rather long-point. They are covered with a copper-red color skin fading into a grayish color towards the upper end. Many people confuse shallots with green onions, scallions and leeks. The shallot can be distinguished from the others by its singular bulb, which is made up of cloves like garlic, but unlike garlic, the individual bulbs are not enclosed in a common membrane.
Raw shallots have a hardier pungency that is stronger than most onions. They are closely related to multiplier onions (Allium cepa agregattum grp.), but smaller, and their true attributes show when used in cooking. Commercially however, those with yellow or brown scales and white interiors such as the “Dutch Yellow” type are usually classed as multiplier onions, while those with red scales and a more distinctive and delicate flavor are classed as shallots. The name “shallot” evolved from the name Ashkelon, a city in ancient Canaan. Shallots have a delicate onion flavor, that when cooked, adds to but does not overpower other flavors. They are eaten fresh or cooked, pickled, chopped or boiled, sautéed in butter, or used in gravies and creamy sauces. Shallots are usually available year-round in most large food stores.
: (Petroselinum crispum hortense grp.) Parsley is native to the Mediterranean region of Southern Europe and was cultivated as early as the third century BC. The ancient Greeks believed parsley was sacred, using it to not only adorn victors of athletic contests, but for decorating the tombs of the deceased as well. The Romans used parsley as a garnish and flavoring. Medieval Europeans believed that one could kill an enemy by plucking a sprig while speaking the person’s name. The two most common types of parsley are curly-leafed parsley and Italian flat-leafed parsley; with the Italian variety more fragrant and less bitter in taste. There is also another type known as Hamburg parsley (Petroselinum crispum radicosum grp.) that is cultivated for its roots.
Parsley is the most widely used culinary herb in the United States and one of the most nutritious of all herbs. It is an excellent source of vitamins A and C, contains niacin, riboflavin and calcium and because it is rich in chlorophyll, parsley makes an excellent breath freshener. However, parsley is among a small number of plants that contain oxalates, a naturally-occurring substance found in some plants. When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. For this reason, individuals with existing kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid parsley.
Dried parsley is more difficult to process because it takes twelve pounds of fresh parsley to make one pound of dried. However, more people still use dried parsley than fresh leaves as a garnish in soups, salads, meats, vegetable dishes, and sauces. Fresh French curly-leaf parsley is the most ideal for garnishes, while the Italian flat-leafed variety is said to have the best flavor for soups, stews, salad dressings, and sauces. Parsley is available year-round.
: (Petroselinum crispum radicosum grp.) Also known as Hamburg parsley or turnip-rooted parsley, parsley root has a long history of use as a vegetable in Holland, Germany, and Poland. It is one of the same groups that form the edible leaves. While the vegetable is no longer uncommon, it is still rare and hard to find in American markets. The root closely resembles a slender parsnip in shape and appearance. Parsley root is white, dry, and celery-like in flavor and cooked in the same way as carrots and parsnips. It is used in soups and stews to improve their flavor since it does not diminish in flavor when cooked for a long time. Parsley is among a small number of plants that contain oxalates, a naturally-occurring substance found in some plants. When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. For this reason, individuals with existing kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid parsley root. Parsley root is usually made available through specialty food markets or exotic produce sections in large supermarkets.
Parsnip: (Pastinaca sativa) Parsnips are believed to be native to the Mediterranean and Caucasus areas and have been cultivated since ancient roman times. It is recorded that Emperor Tiberius brought parsnips to Rome from France and Germany where they grew wild along the banks of the Rhine River. Parsnips were recorded and illustrated in Germany in 1542, and was again illustrated 8 years later under the German name, “pestnachen.” By the mid-17th century, it was a commonly grown vegetable throughout Europe, much like the potato is today. Parsnips were being grown in Virginia in the late 1600s and were common in Massachusetts 20 years later. Even the American Indians grew parsnips. In his 1779 notes, General John Sullivan reported destroying stores of parsnips grown by the Iroquois Indians in western New York.
Parsnips have a wide range of uses. In Ireland, parsnips are used to make beer and wine, and during World War II parsnips were used to make mock bananas. The roots can be eaten raw, boiled, steamed, sautéed, baked, mashed, or used in soups, stews, sauces, cakes, pies, and puddings. They are also made into marmalade, syrup, and beer and wine.
The sweetness of parsnip roots becomes well developed only after being exposed to cold (although not necessarily frozen) for a few weeks. The roots will survive being frozen solid if left in place and not disturbed until they have thawed. The roots of several hardy vegetables will survive freezing if left in the soil undisturbed (carrots, turnips, rutabagas, daikon, etc.). Freezing and rapid thawing when exposed to the air destroys the cells, causing rapid deterioration.
From the early 1700s to the mid-1900s, parsnips were a popular vegetable and usually found in most gardens. Unfortunately with the decline of home gardens and the ever-changing American diet, this healthful vegetable is becoming a relic of the past. The average 9" parsnip has approximately 130 calories, no saturated fat, no cholesterol, and is high in fiber, folic acid, calcium, potassium and vitamins B1, B2, B3, C, iron, and zinc. A word of caution is necessary when you are out looking for wild parsnips since they may actually be water hemlock. The water hemlock looks like a parsnip but is very poisonous. Parsnips are commercially available year-round.
: (Pisum sativum) The pea is a small, edible, round, green bean which grows in a pod, and is thought to have originated in the region that spans from the Near or Middle East across to Central Asia, although historians have differing opinions on the exact homeland. Some historians believe the country of origin may have been northern India, Burma, or northern Thailand. Peas have been found in eastern archaeological sites which date back several millenniums. Domesticated peas appeared shortly after wheat and barley. By 2000 BC, pea cultivation had spread throughout Europe and east into India and China.
According to etymologists the word “peas” was taken from Latin and adopted by the English as the singular term "pease." During the middle Ages, a large kettle containing a thick porridge made of peas hung over the fire in many English and Scottish homes. Even in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was customary, since few of the peasants could afford meat. Fresh peas are generally eaten boiled and flavored with butter and/or spearmint as a side dish vegetable. They are also served raw in salads or steamed, sautéed, used in stews, pot pies, and casseroles. Pod peas, particularly sweet varieties called mangetout and sugar peas are used in stir fried dishes. Pea pods do not keep well and once picked, if not used quickly, they are best preserved by drying, canning or freezing within a few hours of harvest. Peas have both low-growing and vine varieties. Peas are available year-round.
Listed below are some of the more common pea cultivars.
Green or Garden/Shelling Pea: (Pisum sativum ssp) This variety is commonly grown in home gardens where they are picked fresh and eaten raw or cooked. When consumed soon after picking, they are very sweet. However, their sugar content turns to starch rather quickly and some sweetness is lost.
Petits Pois Pea: (Pisum sativum ssps.) Smaller than the English green peas, this dwarf variety of tiny peas is usually grown commercially and is available in frozen or canned form. Petit Pois are available to the home gardener and are revered for their sweetness.
: (Pisum sativum ssps.) At one time this variety was bestowed the scientific name Pisum sativum arvense, but it was later decided it was just another variety of the cultivated English pea that reverted back to its wild form. While this variety is rarely available in the supermarket in its fresh form, it can be found in dried form and sold either in packages or in bulk.
: (Cajanus cajan) The Pigeon pea, also known as red gram, toova, toor, togari, gandul, Congo pea, Gungo pea, and no-eye pea is an important grain legume crop in the semi-arid tropics. Its origin is believed to be in Asia, from where it traveled to East Africa, and by means of the slave trade to the New World. Cultivated for centuries in Asia, today pigeon peas are cultivated in all the tropical and semi-tropical regions of both the Old and New World.
Pigeon peas are different from sugar peas (Pisum sativum) in that pigeon peas are both a food crop (dried peas, flour, or green vegetable peas) and a forage/cover crop. Pigeon peas are cultivated in more than 25 tropical and sub-tropical countries, with India, East Africa, and Central America being the world's three main producing regions.
The plant is a heavy bearer and will flourish under hot growing conditions. The young seeds (peas) are used in the same fashion as green peas, especially in rice dishes. The dried seeds are used in soups and curries, or fermented into dhokla and tempeh kacang iris. Pigeon peas are nutritionally important, since they contain high levels of protein and the amino acids, methionine, lysine, and tryptophan. In combination with other cereal grains, pigeon peas help make a well balanced meal. In some places, such as the Dominican Republic and Hawaii, they are grown for canning. Canned pigeon peas are occasionally found in the specialty food section of some supermarkets. Pigeon peas are available fresh from early spring through late summer while the dried or canned form is available year-round.
: (Pisum sativum macrocarpum) These are thin, almost flat pea pods that are a common ingredient in Chinese dishes, especially stir-fries and are either very lightly cooked or eaten raw. Inside the flat pod are tiny flat peas that are sweet, crisp, tender, and bright green in color. Since they have become so popular, most supermarkets have them available in their produce sections.
: (Pisum sativum ssps.) Sugar snap peas are a cross between Snow Peas and English Green Peas. The crunchy, sweet, succulent pods are usually eaten raw in their entirety. The peas inside are fully developed, plump, round, and delicious. The French call them mange-tout, translated as eat the whole thing. A 1/2 cup of fresh peas contains 62 calories, 4 grams of protein, and 11 grams of carbohydrates and 4 grams of fiber. The sugar snap pea is a relatively new cultivar that is becoming a favorite in home gardens, with only limited amounts being grown commercially.
: (Capsicum annuum) Bell peppers are one of the best known domesticated plants in the world. Since the 16th century, it has spread from Tropical America to every part of the globe. Both hot and mild peppers are derived from the species “Capsicum annum,” which includes all the cultivated types and “Capsicum aviculare,” which includes the wild types. Peppers were named by accident when Columbus and his crew assumed them to be the fiery form of the true pepper, “Piper nigrum”. The first records of peppers grown in Europe; date from around mid-1500s. The sweet pepper, pimento, and green bell pepper are the most popular in temperate countries and widely grown in greenhouses in northern Europe. In southern Europe, the Middle East, and North America, they are usually grown in the open.
Sweet bell peppers contain a recessive gene that eliminates “capsaicin” (heat) in the fruit. The non-pungent form of bell peppers (exception is the pimento) are widely used as a (immature) green vegetable. Most bell peppers are sold at the immature green stage and gain sweetness as they mature. Depending on the variety, the mature fruit will vary in color, ranging from yellow, red, purple, black, brown, white, and orange. One of the most common of varieties is the “California Wonder,” an elongated square pepper that usually measures 4 to 5 inches in length, with 4 lobes.
Sweet peppers are eaten raw, sliced or chopped for salads, baked, sautéed, stuffed with meat, rice, or seafood, and when sliced in rings, make an excellent garnish. Their crisp texture and pleasant flavor is a welcome addition to stir-fries, soups, and stews. They can also be boiled or French fried as a separate vegetable. Bell peppers are a great source of vitamin C. Green peppers has twice the amount of vitamin C by weight than citrus fruits and the more mature red bell peppers have three times as much vitamin C as the green varieties, plus they are a good source of beta carotene. Bell peppers are available year-round, but are more plentiful and less expensive during the summer months.
: (Capsicum annuum ssp) Chile peppers are believed to be native to South, Middle, and Central America and was one of the first cultivated crops in the Americas. They are thought to have been domesticated between 5200 and 3400 BC. The chile pepper, chili pepper, chilli pepper, or simply chile, is the fruit of the plant Capsicum from the nightshade family Solanaceae. Discovered by Columbus and his crew when he landed in the West Indies, they assumed them to be a fiery form of the true pepper “Piper nigrum,” and called them peppers. The fruit is eaten cooked or raw for its fiery hot flavor which is concentrated along the stem end of the pod. The stem end has glands which produce the capsaicin, which then flows down through the pod. By removing the seeds and inner membranes, you can effectively reduce the heat of a pod.
Some of the well-known dishes prepared with chile peppers are Mexican salsas, Texas or Mexican chili con carne, and Indian vindaloos and other curries. They are also used in Korean, Indian, Indonesian, Szechuan and Thai cuisine, although the plant was unknown in Asia until the Europeans introduced it. Another dish that is popular in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore is Sambal, a dipping sauce made from chile peppers and other ingredients such as garlic, onions, salt, shallots, vinegar, and sugar. Chipotles (dried or smoked red jalapeños) are used to flavor stews and sauces. “Chilli” powder is made from dried ground chile peppers, cumin, garlic, and oregano, while hot sauces such as Tabasco are made from a variety of chilies. Chile peppers are eaten raw, dried, roasted, preserved, pickled in vinegar, made into sauces, or used as a condiment. They are even used to flavor jelly. Red chilies are very rich in vitamin C and heavy in vitamin A. The yellow and especially the green chilies (basically unripe fruit) contain considerably lower amounts of these vitamins. In addition, chile peppers are a good source of most B vitamins and in particular, vitamin B6. They are also very high in potassium, magnesium, and iron.
The pungency (or heat factor) of chile peppers is measured in multiples of Scoville 100 units. In 1912 a chemist by the name of Wilbur Scoville developed a method to measure the heat level of chile peppers. One part of chile "heat" per 1,000,000 drops of water is rated at only 1.5 Scoville Units. Peppers range in heat from 0 Scoville units for sweet bell peppers to more than 400,000 Scoville units for the “habenero pepper,” which was rated at that time as the world's hottest Pepper. In year 2000, the "Bhuto Jolokai" or ghost pepper was introduced and rated at 855,000 Scoville units making it the world's hottest pepper. The substance that makes the chile pepper so hot is called capsaicin. Pure capsaicin rates between 15,000,000 and 16,000,000 Scoville Units! Today a more scientific and accurate method called liquid chromatography is used to determine capsaicin levels. A Scoville chart at the end of this guide shows the heat factor for many of the pepper cultivars. A variety of chile peppers are usually available year-round in most large supermarkets.
: (Perilla frutescens) Also known as the beefsteak plant, Shiso, wild basil, and purple mint, perilla is an annual herb of the mint family native to East Asia, and brought to America in the late 1800s by Asian immigrants. It is a traditional crop of China, India, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and other Asian countries. Perilla became quickly acclimatized and is now a common weed of pastures and roadsides in the southeastern United States. In Asia centuries ago, it was considered to be alive and held as sacred, sent by God as food and medicine to treat the afflictions of man. Contempt for the plant meant death; anyone caught destroying the plant would be put to death! It is said to repel ticks if you rub the leaves on your skin and clothes prior to hiking.
Perilla leaves have a very pleasant sweet taste and are used as a spice, cooked as a vegetable, or stir-fried. The leaves are combined with fish, rice, vegetables and soups. They are also chopped and combined with ginger root, then added to stir-fries, tempuras and salads. An essential oil is made from the seed that is used to add flavor to candy and sauces. The seeds are also preserved in salt and used as a condiment for tofu or to add spice in pickles, tempura, and miso. The young seedlings are eaten raw with sashimi (raw fish). The entire plant is very nutritious, packed with vitamins and minerals, and one of the ingredients (aldehyde isomers) found in perilla is 2,000 times sweeter than sugar. Once in a while the leaves get so big and red they remind one of a slice of raw beef, hence the name beefsteak plant. Perilla is often hard to find since it is only grown commercially in very limited amounts but on occasion, it is found in Asian or specialty produce markets.
: (Solanum tuberosum) Native to the Andes Mountains of South America, the potato has been cultivated there for thousands of years. It was not until the early 1500s when the Spanish Conquistadors reached the Peruvian natives, that it was discovered. It was in the later part of the 1500s that the Spanish introduced it to Europe; even then the Spanish put it to limited use. It would take another 30 years for potatoes to spread to the rest of Europe. By 1780, the people of Ireland had adopted potatoes and grew so dependent on them, that by the mid 1800s when a potato virus swept the land and destroyed their crops, there was wide spread famine. The disease was caused by a fungus known as Phytophthora infestans and an effective fungicide was not found until 1883 by the French botanist, Alexandre Millardet. With the devastation of potato crops throughout Europe, came the destruction and dislocation of many of the populations that had become dependent upon it.
Water from cooked potatoes is often used as a leaven for sourdough bread. Potatoes form one of the main ingredients in many soups such as the pseudo-French vichyssoise and Albanian potato and cabbage soup. They are also used for the manufacturing of starch and alcoholic beverages, especially vodka and in Scandinavia, “aquavit,” a national beverage made from potato alcohol. Potatoes have a high carbohydrate content and include protein, minerals (particularly potassium and calcium), and vitamins, including vitamin C. Potatoes are available year-round.
: (Solanum x juzepczukii) and (Solanum x curtilobum) Also known as Aymara, Quechua, or choquepito, the bitter potato is indigenous to the high plateaus of the northern Andes and has been cultivated there for centuries. Acosta, one of the first Spanish chroniclers, recorded that bitter potatoes exposed to the cold overnight and then pressed and dried, were transformed into what was known as chuño and used like bread. Chuño is one of the main staples in the high plateau region between Peru and Bolivia. In order to be eaten, bitter potatoes must undergo processing to remove the glyco-alkaloids.
Traditional processes in the upper Andean area consist of exposing the tubers to several night frosts and drying them in strong sunlight at altitudes of 12,000 to 13,000 feet to obtain black chuño. Larger bitter potatoes are generally used to prepare white chuño. After freezing, the tubers are peeled, and then hydrated for 30 days, followed by drying (curing). Black chuño keeps very well because of its attributes as a dehydrated product. White chuño is usually eaten on feast days and fetches a high price at town markets. Both white chuño and black chuño are high in vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates. Between August and March, black chuño constitutes about 70 percent of the food used by the rural natives of the Peruvian and Bolivian highlands. Bitter potatoes are only available in the areas where grown.
: (Apios Americana) Also known as Rosary Root, Ground Nut, Earth Nut, Wild Potato, Wild Sweet Potato, American Potato Bean, and Ground Bean, the Indian potato was once food for pioneers and Indians. It was one source of food for the Omaha, Dakota, Santee Sioux, Cheyenne, Osage, Pawnee, and Hidatsa Indian tribes in America. It is a perennial herb that has slender rhizomes with tuberous thickenings. The tubers can be gathered all year but are best when harvested from late fall through early spring. The seeds are oblong or square, dark brown with wrinkled surfaces, and when dried, they are cooked and eaten like peas in summer. The tubers are delicious raw or cooked with a flavor similar to roasted sweet potatoes. The tubers are also boiled, peeled, and dried for storage. The fresh, sweet, starchy tubers are eaten raw, boiled, fried, and roasted, or used in soups, stews, and casseroles. They can also be dried and ground into a powder that is used as a thickening agent for soups or gravies and can be added to cereal flours for making bread. The tubers contain 17% crude protein, (more than 3 times the amount found in the common potato). At the present time, Indian potatoes are not grown commercially and only available in the wild.
: (Cucurbita pepo ssp) Both pumpkins and squashes originated in South and Central America, where their cultivation has been recorded as early as 3400 BC. The word “pumpkin” is derived from the old French term pompion, meaning eaten when "cooked by the sun" or ripe. In modern French, it is called potiron. Native American Indians have used pumpkins as a staple in their diet for centuries. When the colonists arrived in America, pumpkins were one of the first vegetables introduced to them by the Indians and they soon became a staple in their diets. When the seeds were brought back to England, pumpkins quickly became popular and cultivated throughout Europe.
The pumpkin plant is a rambling vine that is grown for its familiar orange fruit. They possess large, dark green leaves, orange trumpet-shaped flowers, and prickly hairs on the stems and leaves. The fruit is a large, round, orange vegetable with thick inside flesh that is often used for making pies. The smaller pumpkins are carved into Jack-o-lanterns to celebrate Halloween. Early settlers made pumpkin pie by filling a hollowed out shell with milk, honey and spices, then baking it. Native Americans dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats or they roasted long strips of pumpkin on the open fire and ate them. Young pumpkins are eaten steamed, boiled, fried and stuffed, while mature fruits are baked, mashed, puréed, or used in pies, soups, stews, cakes, breads, custards, and pancakes or carved into Jack-o-lanterns.
Most pumpkin fruits are orange, but some are white or yellow, with a hard outer shell that is lined with a thicker layer of coarse flesh. The mature pumpkin usually weighs 15 to 30 pounds, but some giants may weigh over 1400 pounds. Pumpkins are categorized by size. Miniature pumpkins are 3 to 4 inches in size and weigh less than 1 pound, small pumpkins are 1 to 5 pounds, small/medium are 5 to 10 pounds, medium/large 10 to 25 pounds, and mammoth pumpkins are those that weigh 100 pounds or more. The largest pumpkin ever grown to date, weighed 1,502 pounds, and was grown by Ron Wallace, a Rhode Island farmer. It was weighed at the Frerich’s GPC weigh off in Warren, Rhode Island on October 7, 2006. Last years’ world record pumpkin weighed 1,469 pounds, and was grown by Larry Checkon of North Cambria, Pennsylvania. It was weighed on October 1, 2005 at the Pennsylvania Giant Pumpkin Growers weigh off. Pumpkins are rich in Vitamin A, potassium, and high in fiber. Canned pumpkin is available year-round, while the fresh are usually available from September through November.
: (Portulaca oleracea) Also known as Pusley or Verdolaga, the purslane plant is native to the Persian area where it has been cultivated for centuries. Purslane is high in vitamin A and C, plus iron, phosphorus and calcium and a source of Omega-3 fatty acids. The leaves and stems are used in salads, pickled, stir-fried, sautéed, and added to capers or olives. They are also used in casseroles, soups, stews, omelets, fritters, and sandwiches. They are a good substitute for okra in gumbo or other Creole dishes and the seeds are ground and used in gruels, cakes, bread, and pancakes. Commercial cultivation is limited to China, Mexico, Europe and Africa. It is not grown commercially in the United States and is usually only found in home gardens.
: (Cichorium intybus) Humans have been using radicchio for centuries. Pliny the Elder wrote of it in Naturalis Historia. In Italy, the vegetable is quite popular and is usually eaten grilled in olive oil or mixed into dishes such as risotto. Modern cultivation of radicchio began in the fifteenth century in Italy, but it was the Belgian agronomist Francesco Van den Borre, who in 1860 developed the technique called imbianchimento (whitening) to create the dark red, white-veined leaves we know today. The different varieties of radicchio are named after the Italian regions where they originated. The most universal variety in the United States is radicchio di Chioggia, which is a maroon, round head about the size of a grapefruit. The less common variety used in the United States is the radicchio di Treviso, that resembles a large Belgian endive. The best known of all radicchios, is the Rossa di Verona, which produce bright red, very tight heads, with prominent white midribs and veins.
Radicchio belongs to the chicory family and has a bitter and spicy flavor, which is reduced when grilled or roasted. The cultivars mentioned above have larger leaves and were developed for use in salads, but the somewhat bitter leaves are still excellent when boiled, steamed, braised, sautéed, or used in soups and stews. They are especially good for adding color and zest to salads or when used as a garnish.
There are two other cultivars, Chiavari and Magdeburg, which are grown for their roots, which are usually used in soups or stews, and occasionally scraped, boiled until tender, then sliced thinly and served with vinaigrette. Chicory extracts are also used in alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Radicchio is very popular and expensive and is usually found in produce specialty markets or specialty produce sections in supermarkets. It is usually available year-round from California.
: (Raphanus sativus) Cultivated radishes were known to have been grown by the Egyptians around 2700 BC when the Great Pyramid was being built. The origin of the cultivated radish is unknown but is thought to be in the eastern Mediterranean region. By 500 BC it was being cultivated in China and in Japan by 700 AD. They were introduced to America by the colonist during the early 17th century.
were the first to be cultivated, while white radishes were not recorded in Europe until the late 16th century. The round radish did not appear until the 18th century, with the red radish emerging around the same time. Cultivated radishes are usually divided into four groups: white or red radishes, black radishes, Mougri radish, and oil-seed radish. They are also classed as summer or winter radishes. Summer radishes are the small ones of bold red, pink, purple, white, or red and white, and they can be globe-shaped or elongated, and fiery hot or mild. Winter radishes tend to be milder and may be white, black, or green with long tapering roots. Black radishes are rather large, sooty-black on the outside, with white flesh and their flavor can be almost as pungent as horseradish. Raw black radishes are usually salted to tame their peppery bite.
: (Raphanus sativus ssps.) Daikon is a root vegetable that is thought to have originated in the Mediterranean area and brought to China for cultivation around 500 B.C. The word daikon actually comes from two Japanese words; dai (meaning large) and kon (meaning root). The root is also known as Japanese or Chinese radish, winter radish and mooli. Daikon is a very important ingredient in Chinese and Korean cuisine. In China, it is used in different dishes like poon choi or to make mooli cake for the Chinese New Year. The cake is cooked either by frying or steaming. The radish is often added to fishball curry and in Korea; it is often pickled and used in kimchi. Daikon is an essential part of Japanese cuisine and more daikon radishes are grown in Japan than any other vegetable.
There are three distinct shapes; spherical, oblong and cylindrical. The most common daikon in Japan is the Aokubi, which has the shape of a giant carrot, approximately 8 to 14 inches in length and 2 to 4 inches in diameter. One of the most odd-shaped daikon is Sakurajima daikon, which is shaped like an oversized turnip with white outside and bright pink inside. Daikon roots can be large, often 4 inches in diameter and up to 20 inches long. Some have been developed in the Orient which develops very large roots, reportedly up to 40 or 50 pounds, with a leaf top spread of more than 2 feet.
Fresh leaves of daikon can be eaten as a leaf vegetable but are often removed when sold in a store because they do not keep well under refrigeration, yellowing quite easily. Their sprouts known as kaiware, are a popular garnish for salads and sushi. Daikon radishes are excellent when used raw in fresh salads or eaten out-of-hand, or they can be simmered and served alone, or in nabe or oden (a Japanese recipe, which includes daikon, fish cakes, boiled eggs, and yam cake). In Asian recipes, they are usually grated and served either as a garnish or as an accent in soups such as miso. Daikon is served with Japanese style hamburgers along with soy sauce and they are used in making takuan, a kind of fermented pickle used in sushi. They are also cut into strips or chips for relish trays and can be stir-fried, grilled, baked, boiled or broiled, and preserved by salting as in making sauerkraut.
To prepare, peel the skin as you would a carrot and cut for whatever style your recipe idea calls for. Not only is the root good for diets, but the leaves are rich in vitamin C, beta carotene, calcium, and iron. Daikon is very low in calories. A 3 ounce serving contains only 18 calories and provides 34 percent of the RDA for vitamin C. Prior to the 1960s, daikon radishes were little known in America, but since then they have become increasingly popular in American cuisine. The radishes are now being grown commercially in several states, but the major production is in California. Daikon radishes are available year-round.
: (Raphanus sativus longipinnatus grp.) Also known as Mooli and Luo bo, the Lo Bok is another Chinese radish cultivar that forms large roots. The roots are more variable in size, shape, and color of skin than daikon and the leaves are generally hairless and more palatable. Lo Bok ranges from 1 to 2 inches in diameter, to 10 inches or more in length. The flesh is firm, crisp, white, and the flavor ranges from sweet and mild to pungent. They are good raw in salads, or pickled overnight in sweet vinegar. Lo Bok is usually available at Asian or specialty food markets.
: (Allium chinense) Also known as Ch'iao t'ou and Japanese scallion, rakkyo has been used for centuries in China and Japan. It is an important vegetable in their diet and in America; it is grown and mainly used by Orientals. Belonging to the onion family, the plants are propagated by bulb division and when harvested, several small bulbs are obtained from each bulb planted. The bulbs, which have an excellent crisp texture and a strong onion-like aroma, are eaten raw or cooked as a vegetable. They are often pickled in vinegar with honey, sugar, or soy sauce and they can be preserved in salt, sake lees, or sweet sake. Rakkyos are also processed for sale in bottles or cans as pickled scallions or rakkyo zuke in America. Fresh rakkyo is usually available in Asian food markets or occasionally in gourmet food sections of supermarkets.
: (Brassica napus) Also known as colpa, colsa, colerape, tori, and Chou oleifere, rape originated in northern Europe and at one time, cultivated throughout most of the Mediterranean area. Rape is of two general kinds: the annual grown for seeds and the biennial grown for forage. Although rape is outlined here due to its usefulness as a vegetable, as of now, it has no commercial value as a food staple. The seeds are pressed for their oil which is used as a salad or cooking oil. At one time the oil was used in lamps and for lubrication, and prior to World War II, large quantities of rape seed and oil were imported from Japan. In Canada, the rape cultivar “Canola” is the source for canola oil, which is used in products such as mayonnaise, margarine, and shortening. The forage type, “Dwarf Essex,” is used extensively in some areas for their early greens or used as a substitute vegetable for mustard, cress, kale, or collards. Composition of the young leaves is 83.3% water, 2.9% protein, 1.7% fat, 11.2% carbohydrates, and 1.8% fiber. Rape is not grown commercially for the fresh produce market.
: (Rheum rhabarbarum) Varieties of rhubarb have had a long history as medicinal plants in traditional Chinese medicine that date back to 2700 BC. Indigenous to Asia, it was believed to be used by the Mongolians; particularly the Tatars tribes of the Gobi and the roots of the Chinese type are still used in China today as medicine. As a food, rhubarb is fairly new; it was first recorded as a food plant in Europe in 1778 and came to America around 1800 and by the early 1820s, it was appearing in produce markets. The earliest known use of rhubarb as food was for filling in pies and tarts. In former days, a common and affordable sweet for children in Yorkshire, England, was a tender stick of rhubarb, dipped in copious amounts of sugar.
Rhubarb is now grown for its fleshy stalks, commonly known as rhubarb sticks. In the northern hemisphere, rhubarb is one of the first food plants to be ready for harvest, usually in March or April. The stalks are used in a variety of ways. Stewed, they yield a tart sauce which can be eaten with sugar or used as filling for pies, tarts, jams, jellies, bread puddings, crisps, cobblers, and crumbles. The juice is also used in syrups and it makes an excellent wine, which some claim is only rivaled by champagne. Rhubarb is usually available in food stores, March through early June, depending on the area where grown.
: (Brassica napus napobrassica grp.) Also known as Swedish turnip or Swede, the rutabaga is indigenous to Sweden. The American term “rutabaga” is from the dialectal Swedish rotabagge, while “swede” is the term used in England. In Newfoundland, white turnips are relatively unknown, with rutabagas being known simply as turnips. From Sweden, the rutabaga migrated to Scotland, then to England and from there to North America. During World War I when rutabagas and turnips became a food of last resort in Europe, people were so tired of eating them that they have remained unpopular there to this day and rarely planted.
Rutabagas are globular in shape, yellow-fleshed, very firm, more nutritious, and generally larger than turnips, with a much richer flavor. The turnip-like roots are eaten boiled, steamed, baked, fried, mashed, or sliced and are excellent for use in soups or stews, adding their own unique flavor. Rutabagas are available in most U.S. food stores year-round.
: (Metroxylon sagu) The Sago palm is believed to have originated in New Guinea and has been described as one of mankind's oldest food plant. It is an extremely fast growing, large, clustering palm with a thick trunk that is widely grown over all of Southeast Asia for the starchy pith of its trunk. In addition to the pith, the palm leaves are used for thatching their dwellings.
In producing sago; the palm is felled, then split and opened lengthwise, the pith is removed, then crushed and kneaded to release the starch. After crushing and kneading, the pith is washed and strained into a starch settling container in order to extract the raw starch from the fibrous residue. The sago starch is then baked or mixed with boiling water to create a form of paste. Sago can be made into steamed puddings, ground into powder and used as a thickener for other dishes, or used as dense glutinous flour. In Malaysia and Indonesia, sago starch is used in making noodles, white bread, and sago pearls (similar to tapioca). In India, sago is used in a variety of dishes including khichdi, wafers, and puddings.
Sago flour is nearly pure carbohydrate with very little protein, vitamins, or minerals. However, its nutritional deficiencies can be satisfied with other readily available foods. One hundred grams of dry sago yields 355 calories, including an average of 94 grams of carbohydrate, 0.2 grams of protein, 0.5 grams of dietary fiber, 10mg of calcium, 1.2mg of iron, and negligible amounts of fat, carotene, thiamin, and ascorbic acid. Sago can be stored for weeks or months, although generally it is eaten quickly after it is processed. Fresh sago is rarely available in American food stores; however, processed sago is usually available in most gourmet sections of large supermarkets
: (Tragopogon porrifolius) Also known as oyster plant, vegetable oyster, purple salsify, or goats’ beard, salsify is indigenous to the Mediterranean areas of Europe. From Europe it was introduced to England, northern Europe, North America, and southern Africa. In the United States, it is now found growing wild in every state except Alaska. Salsify has been cultivated as a vegetable for centuries and has been mentioned by classical authors such as Pliny the Elder.
Grown for its roots which are noted for tasting like oysters, hence its name “oyster plant,” salsify roots are usually used in casseroles, baked, sautéed in butter, or used in soups and stews. However, the young roots can be grated for use in salads, and latex derived from the root was used by British Columbia Indians as a chewing gum. The flowering shoots can be used like asparagus, either raw or cooked, and the flowers can be added to salad, while the sprouted seeds can be used in salads or sandwiches.
Unfortunately, this plant is still relatively unknown in the United States. When properly prepared, mock oyster stew or soup made from salsify roots is excellent, “not having the strong flavor of real oysters.” Salsify is grown more as a gourmet item and is rarely found except as a specialty produce item, even in home gardens or large food stores.
: (Scorzonera hispanica) Also known as black salsify, black oyster plant, coconut root, serpent root, mock oyster, and viper's grass, scorzonera is indigenous to the Mediterranean region of Europe. Although relatively unknown in the United States, it has been cultivated for many years throughout Europe. Little is known about its past history since there was no mention of it anywhere until the 16th century.
Scorzonera is called black salsify because of its long fleshy taproot, which is similar to the common salsify but black in color, with white flesh, and an oyster flavor that is superior to the common salsify. Boiling the roots is necessary to remove a bitter taste, after which they are used in a similar manner as salsify. The long, blackish roots are eaten boiled, steamed, baked, mashed, batter fried, or used in soups or stews. The young tender shoots known as chards can be added to tossed salads. Although generally available in Europe, scorzonera is rarely seen in American produce departments.
: (Crambe maritima) Also known as silver kale or scurvy grass, seakale is indigenous to Europe; from the North Atlantic to the Black Sea. Once an aristocrat of Victorian vegetable gardens and widely cultivated in European home gardens, today it is rarely grown commercially. In the old days of sailing, it was one of the traditional plants taken on voyages as a preventative against scurvy; thus its nickname, scurvy grass. Seakale was harvested from the wild and sold in markets long before it came into cultivation. It is easy an easy plant to grow and quite delicious and an excellent source of Vitamin C, if not blanched.
Sea kale is not a type of kale or a relative of the seakale beet, which is a type of chard, but it is a member of the cabbage family. The plant produces thick leaf stalks, each topped with a small leaf that is used in a similar manner as asparagus. The leafstalks are used raw in salads, or boiled, baked, braised, sautéed, or otherwise prepared like asparagus. When properly cooked, they retain their firmness and have a very pleasant flavor, similar to that of filberts (a type of nut). Seakale is more common in Europe and commercial cultivation is limited almost exclusively to Britain and France. It is seldom available in the United States except in home gardens or as a specialty food item in large food stores.
: (Capsella bursa-pastoris) Also known as Chinese cress or water chestnut vegetable, shepherd’s purse is native to Europe and Asia, but now has become common in several areas of the world. The name comes from Latin, and means “little box,” which refers to the capsule in the shape of a shepherd's purse. The seeds, leaves, and root of this plant are edible, and in China it is grown commercially. Stir-fried shepherd's purse leaves are considered a delicacy in China. All parts of the plant are edible, but have a biting taste and they can be eaten raw or cooked. The young leaves, used before the plant comes into flower, make a fine addition to salads, and are used as a cress and cabbage substitute, however they become peppery with age.
The leaves contain about 2.9% protein, 0.2% fat, 3.4% carbohydrate, 1% ash and they are rich in iron, calcium and vitamin C. The young flowering shoots can be eaten, raw or cooked, as well. The seeds, raw or cooked, can be ground into a meal and used in soups and stews, however, they are difficult to harvest and utilize since they are very small. The seed contains 35% of fatty oil, which can be extracted and is edible. The seedpods can be used as a peppery seasoning for soups and stews and the fresh or dried root can be used as a ginger substitute. Shepherd’s purse is rarely grown commercially in the United States but it is on occasion, available in Asian or specialty food markets.
: (Sium sisarum apiaceae) If you like parsnips; you will probably love skirret. Both of these root crops are harvested in the fall, but are usually over-wintered as a vegetable for spring. Both are so hardy that they can stand the toughest winters.Skirret is native to central Europe, from Hungary eastwards to Siberia and central Asia. Skirret prefers damp places as the roots become woody and fibrous if it is lacking moisture.
The plant produces a cluster of floury-white roots about 1/2-inch in diameter that have a sweet nutty flavor that enhances cold-weather pies. If there is a woody core present, it should be removed prior to cooking since it is difficult to remove afterward. Skirret makes a bundle of swollen grayish-white roots from the crown, each much thinner than a parsnip. The roots are sliced and used raw in salads or boiled, braised, baked, stewed, batter-fried, creamed, or used in soups, stews and curries. The skirret is cultivated in Europe, but it is relatively unknown in North America, where it is rarely grown. Skirret is not grown commercially in the United States but on occasion, it is available from home gardens orspecialty food markets.
: (Rumex acetosa) Native to central and southern Europe, sorrel is still a popular vegetable in parts of France and England, and was popular in America until the 19th Century. The pleasantly acrid leaves are eaten raw in salads or used in soups, omelets, sauces, and fish dishes. Another sorrel species (Rumex scutatus) known as French sorrel, is preferred by many gourmets for their extremely acrid leaves, which are used for flavoring and adding more zest to salads, sauces and soups. Sorrel is not grown commercially in America, but may be available through home gardens or in specialty produce markets.
: The history of spices contains all the elements of best selling novels; from the seduction of power, to wealth, wars, piracy, murder, avarice, bribery, ransoms, deceptions, discoveries, and even sex. Fortunes have been made, powerful rulers seduced, and countries put in subjection, all for the opportunity of exploiting spices. Even the “New World” was discovered by the lure of spices. Spices still cast their mystical spells on our imagination; they enhance our senses with enticing aromas and tastes, often bringing fond remembrances of times past.
Legend has it that the Queen of Sheba offered King Solomon “120 talents of gold, many spices and precious stones” and that Cleopatra used spices for fragrance in her palace whenever Mark Antony would visit. A handful of cardamom was worth a poor man's yearly wage, and slaves were bought and sold for just a few cups of peppercorns. The nomadic Arabs were the first to introduce spices into Europe, followed by the Phoenicians who were expert merchants and excellent navigators. So much so, that by the end of the 4th century BC, spices were called "Phoenician merchandise." Besides traditional black pepper, some of the other spices from that era were ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. By the late 18th century, Americans were becoming involved in the spice trade and by the mid-19th century; dominated it. America's first millionaires made their money in the spice trade. Ultimately the long voyages, piracy off the coast of Africa and in the Java and China seas, plus the loss of ships made the voyages too dangerous and costly for the New England traders.
Today we have the spices of the world at our fingertips and we use them to create the dishes of many cultures. The use of herbs and spices in cooking offers the consumer a way to prepare exotic, gourmet dishes or cultural meals, and a method to cut or save calories and fat in cooking. Americans have made some contributions to the spice world. In Texas during the mid-1800s, entrepreneurs developed chili powder as a simpler way to make Mexican dishes. In 1889, researchers in California developed dehydrated onions and garlic.
Listed below are just a few of the major spices being put to use today by consumers in North America.
: (Pimenta dioica) Allspice is the only spice that is grown exclusively in the Western Hemisphere. The tree that produces the pea-size berries is native to the rainforests of South and Central America where it grows wild. Spanish explorers discovered the tree in Jamaica during the 16th century and thought the fruits look like pepper, so they gave it the name of Jamaican pepper and pimento (dried unripe berry) from the word "pimienta", Spanish for peppercorn. The English name "allspice" was given because the spice was said to have the aroma of several spices including cloves, ginger, pepper, and even cinnamon and nutmeg. Unfortunately the wild trees were cut down to harvest the berries and few remain today, although there are plantations in Mexico and Central America. The finest allspice comes from Jamaica where the climate and soil is best suited to producing the aromatic berries.
Unripe allspice berries are harvested and sun dried until the seeds in them rattle. When dried, the allspice berries resemble large brown peppercorns and vary in size from 1/8 to1/4-inch in diameter and are dark brown with wrinkled skins. The outer case contains two dark, hard, kidney-shaped seeds. Allspice is used to flavor pickles, sauces, ketchup, sausages, soups, some desserts, and ice cream. Allspice is available whole or ground.
: (Ocimum basilicum) Basil, also called Sweet Basil, is the dried leaves of an herb that is a member of the mint family. The genus Ocimum is believed to have originated in Africa although it is widespread over Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. Although basil is cultivated worldwide, Egypt is the major producer followed by the United States. Basil was a symbol of love and fertility to early Romans and in India, Hindus believed if a basil leaf was buried with them, it would serve as a passport to heaven.
In Europe, basil is one of the most commonly used herb in cooking and in eastern Asia, the seeds are eaten alone or added to bread dough and other foods as flavoring. Basil is rich in vitamin A and C, calcium, phosphorus, and a good source of iron, potassium, and magnesium. The young leaves and flowering tips, both fresh and dried are used for seasoning tomato sauce, soups, salads, omelets, pesto sauce, pizza, and cheeses. It is a source of an essential oil used in manufacturing of ketchup, mustard, and vinegar.
Bay Leaf: (Laurus nobilis) Also known as Sweet bay or Laurel, the tree is native to the Mediterranean area where it has been used for centuries. In Ancient Greece and Rome, bay leaves and their stems were woven into wreaths to crown their champions and in the Olympic Games; the triumphant victors wore garlands of bay leaves.
The most common form of bay leaf as an herb is the dried whole leaf. It may be crumbled into recipes or added whole, and if used whole, the leaves should be removed prior to serving. Bay Leaves are a staple in American kitchens and are used in soups, stews, meat dishes, stuffing, fish, marinades, tomato sauces, gravies, poultry, and vegetable dishes. Bay leaves also flavor such classic French dishes as bouillabaisse and bouillon. Although difficult to find, ground bay leaves are convenient to use and excellent for creating your own spice blends.
: (Piper nigrum) Called the “King of Spices,” the pepper plant is native to the Malabar Coast in southeast India and has remained in that since the 4th century BC. During the early centuries, Arabic traders established a pepper monopoly and created the spice route through the Arab regions to their European customers. From the early Roman times until the middle of the 16th century, pepper was one of the most valuable commodities in the world, and at one time, was used as a form of currency. People could pay their rent in peppercorns, families would give endowments of pepper for their daughters’ dowry, government officials could be bribed with it, and debts could be paid. When America became involved in the world spice trade, Salem, Massachusetts led the country in imports and pepper was its largest and most expensive commodity. Salem soon became the world's greatest pepper shipper, re-exporting 7.5 million pounds a year in the early 1800s.
Today pepper is still the favorite spice, and accounts for one quarter of all spices traded. Its ability to enhance foods without overpowering their flavor makes it a must in all spice racks around the world. From the common container of ground pepper to pricey upscale grinders with multicolored peppercorns, it’s hard to imagine cooking without it.
Black pepper is the fruits of pepper harvested unripe but not far from ripeness, and dried at moderate temperature. The later pepper is picked, the better its flavor will become. The latest moment to produce black pepper is when the fruits turn yellow-orange; peppers made from these berries have a particularly high-quality flavor. Fully ripened pepper fruits are used to make white pepper. The milder, white pepper is obtained from peppercorns whose outer covering has been removed. It would be difficult to name a food or dish that would not be enhanced with pepper, however, meat dishes seem to benefit the most. The oil from peppercorns is used to flavor, sausages, pickles, canned foods and beverages.
: (Elletaria Cardamomum) Cardamom is one of the world’s very ancient spices and native to India, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia. Ancient Egyptians chewed cardamom seeds as a breath sweetener and tooth cleaner; the Greeks and Romans used it as a perfume, and Cleopatra is said to have scented her palace with cardamom smoke when Marc Antony came to visit. Cardamom is a popular spice in northern and eastern Africa as well as in East India, Scandinavia, Arabia and Central Africa.
Cardamom is a prominent pungent, aromatic spice that is used in many different types of world cuisine. It is also one of the most expensive spices, second only to saffron. One of the reasons it is so expensive is because it is difficult to grow and must be hand picked. In Arab countries, it is an essential ingredient in their coffee, and it was often shown to guests prior to serving coffee as a sign of respect and esteem. Scandinavian countries use cardamom for cookies and sweetbreads.
Cardamom is available in two forms commercially; either whole or ground, and it is used to flavor curry powder, rice, sausages, cakes, drinks, cordials, bitters, gingerbread, coffee, and candies. Other uses include pickles, especially pickled herring, punches and mulled wines, or used occasionally with meat, poultry, and shellfish. It also flavors custards and some Russian liqueurs. Cardamom seeds lose their flavor quickly when ground, so buy whole whenever possible.
To make cayenne pepper, several varieties of hot peppers are dried and ground, or pulped and baked into cakes, which are then ground and sifted to make the powder. Cayenne is used in salsas, avocado dips, tacos, omelets, and enchilada sauces for an extra zesty flavor. Some people even sprinkle it on vegetables in their gardens to keep deer, rabbits, and other animals from destroying them. When handling cayenne use caution, accidentally placing the hands in or on sensitive areas (such as the eyes, nose, mouth, or groin), can result in a sensation of severe burning.
Chili Powder: No one is sure who created chili powder, some say it was DeWitt Pendery of Fort Worth, Texas; others say it was William Gebhardt of New Braunfels, Texas. However in 1894, Gebhardt was the first to package chili powder. Dried chilies are the main ingredient of chili powder, enhanced by spices and herbs; mainly cumin and oregano, occasionally black pepper, dehydrated garlic, and onions. Original chili powders were pure, without adulterants such as anti-caking agents or flour that characterize many of the modern blends. The commercial chili powders found in stores today is a blend of chili peppers, cumin seed, oregano, garlic, usually salt, and occasionally cloves or allspice. Chili powder is not always hot; it is usually used to dominate the flavor of a food but it can also be used as a background flavor. Chili powder is semi-perishable so it should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place or refrigerated in hot climates. Ordinarily it will keep for 6 months if stored in cupboard and up to 2 years in refrigeration. Chili powder is used for flavoring beans, barbecue dishes, sauces, soups, dips, Mexican recipes, macaroni and cheese, chicken, beef, and fish. It is well to remember when purchasing chili powder, that blends will vary from one manufacturer to another manufacturer.
: (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) (Cinnamomum loureiri) Native to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), true cinnamon dates back in Chinese writings to 2800 BC. Cinnamon’s botanical name (Cinnamomum) is acquired from the Hebraic and Arabic term amomon, meaning fragrant spice plant. In the ancient world, cinnamon was more precious than gold, and in the first century AD, Pliny the Elder wrote of 350 grams of cinnamon being equal in value to over five kilograms of silver, about fifteen times the value of silver per weight. After the Portuguese invaded Ceylon in the 1500s, the Sinhalese King paid them a yearly tribute of 110,000 kilograms of cinnamon.
Cinnamon is produced from the inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree of which there are more than 50 different species. Only two of the species are of any importance, the zeylanicum, called the true or Ceylon cinnamon and the cassia, called Saigon cassia. Cassia and cinnamon have similar uses, but since cinnamon is more delicate, it is used more in dessert dishes as well as cakes and other baked goods, beverages, milk and rice puddings, or in chocolate and fruit dishes, particularly apples and pears.
is more preferred in China and Japan where it is considered to be superior to Ceylon cinnamon for seasoning toast, apple pies, and other foods. In many Middle East and North African countries, cinnamon is used in flavoring lamb or stuffed aubergines (eggplant). It is also used in curries, pilaus, and in garam masala or used to spice mulled wines, creams, and syrups. The largest importer of Ceylon cinnamon is Mexico, where it is drunk with coffee and chocolate or brewed as a tea.
Cultivated plantations grow trees as small bushes, no taller than 10 feet since the stems are continually cut back to produce new stems for bark. The outer bark, cork and the pithy inner lining are scraped off, while the remaining bark is left to dry, and when it curls and rolls into “quills,” it is harvested. Several of these quills are rolled together to produce a compact final product, which is then cut into uniform lengths and graded according to thickness, aroma, and appearance. The best quills are pale and parchment-like in appearance. Whole quills keep their flavor indefinitely, however, powdered cinnamon loses flavor quickly and should be kept away from light in airtight containers. Cinnamon bark and powder is available year-round.
The pungent, sweet-flavored clove bud is marketed, either whole or ground, and is used in a variety of ways. Whole cloves are popular in cooking meats, pickling fruit, and making syrups; while ground clove is used for baking, as an ingredient in perfumes, and for medicinal use, particularly for the relief of toothaches. In India, they are used in garam masala, biryanis, and pickles, and in the United States, cloves are used in meats, salad dressings, and desserts. It is also a principal ingredient in ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. Other seasoning uses include baked ham, sausages, baked apples, mincemeat, pies, and preserves. Clove extract is used in flavoring beverages, gelatin desserts, chewing gum, bakery goods, ice cream, candies, and sauces.
: (Cuminum cyminum) The cumin plant is native to the east Mediterranean area and Upper Egypt and plays a major role in Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, and Indian cuisine, and is a critical ingredient of chili powder. In Indian recipes, cumin is frequently confused with caraway, which it resembles in appearance though not in taste, cumin being far more powerful. Historically, Iran has been the principal supplier of Cumin, but currently the major sources are India, Syria, Pakistan, and Turkey.
Cumin is the dried seed of the herb Cuminum cyminum, which is a member of the parsley family. Cumin is used mainly where highly spiced foods are preferred and is found in achiote blends, adobos, garam masala, curry powder, and baharat. It has a strong, heavy, and warm, spicy-sweet aroma with a pungent, powerful, sharp and slightly bitter taste. Cumin is an ingredient in most curry powders and many spice mixtures, and is used in stews, grilled lamb, and chicken dishes. It also gives bite to plain rice, beans, and cakes, and small amounts can be successfully used in eggplant and kidney beans. Cumin is an essential ingredient in spicy Mexican foods such as chili con carne, pork casseroles, and enchiladas with chili sauce. In Europe, it is used in Portuguese sausages and spice cheese, and as a pickling ingredient for cabbage, sauerkraut, and chutneys. In the Middle East, it is a common spice for fish, grilled dishes, stews, and for flavoring “couscous” (semolina steamed over meat and vegetables), the national dish of Morocco. Ground cumin should be kept in an airtight container to retain its pungency. It should always be used with restraint, since it can easily overpower other flavors in a dish.
Nutmeg: (Myristica fragans) Nutmeg is a product of a tropical evergreen tree that is native to Indonesia and cultivated in the West Indies, South Africa, the Spice Islands and other tropical areas for its fruit. The brown, wrinkled, oval fruit contains a kernel which is covered by a bright red membrane, which is yellowish-brown when dried and this membrane provides the spice known as mace and the kernel, the spice known as nutmeg. The fruits are very toxic and hallucinogenic and eating one can produce stomach pain, double vision, delirium and other symptoms of poisoning. Eating as few as two nutmegs may result in death. After processing to eliminate the toxins, the ground seeds are the source of the spice “nutmeg” used in flavoring custards, eggnog, sauces, cakes, puddings, and pies. Powdered mace is used in seasoning soups, sauces, fruit salads, cakes, pickles, and baked goods.
Oregano: (Origanum vugare) Oregano is also known as Wild marjoram and closely related to sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana). Native to the Mediterranean area of Europe, oregano was a favorite herb for flavoring vegetables, wines, meats, and fish in ancient Egypt and Greece. Oregano is the dried leaves of the herbs Origanum vugare or Lippia graveolens, Mexican Oregano. Although only loosely related to oregano, Mexican oregano displays a flavor very similar to that of real oregano, although stronger, less minty, more hay-like, and less bitter than the other herbs. The fresh and dried leaves of the Mediterranean oregano are used for seasoning soups, casseroles, stews, sauces, olives, pizza, spaghetti sauces, and other tomato-based sauces and egg dishes. Mexican oregano is usually found in chili powders, chili con carne, and other Mexican dishes. It is increasingly used in the United States, since its strong aroma makes it an acceptable substitute for epazote leaves. To release its flavor, crush oregano by hand or with a mortar and pestle before using it in your recipes.
Paprika: (Capiscum annuum) Also known as Hungarian pepper or Pimento pepper, the plant is native to South America and although a tropical plant, it has now been hybridized to grow in cooler climates. Hungary and Spain are now the two main centers for growing paprika peppers, with the Hungarian pepper being stronger and richer than the Spanish pepper, which is quite mild. In order to maintain a stronger taste that consumers want, some spice companies add cayenne to heat up Hungarian paprika. There are three grades of Spanish paprika; dolce (sweet), agridulce (semi sweet) and picante (hot). In Hungary there as six grades, ranging from Kulonleges (exquisite delicate) to Eros (hot and pungent). Commercial food manufacturers use paprika in cheeses, processed meats, tomato sauces, chili powders, and soups, with its main purpose being to add color.
Paprika is usually associated with Hungarian cuisine, especially paprikash and goulash, but it is also used in spiced sausages and chorizos, or used as a garnish sprinkled on eggs, hors d’ouvres, and salads. It is used in marinades, soups, stews, casseroles, smoked foods, barbecue, goulash, chili, snack foods, and vegetables. Paprika flavor can range from sweet and mild to pungent and fiery, so be sure to check the labeling for range of heat.
Thyme: (Thymus vulgaris) Thyme is the dried leaves of a small perennial of the mint family and dates back to ancient Greece where it symbolized courage. The plant is usually about eighteen inches tall with leaves measuring about one quarter-inch in length and one tenth-inch in width. Most thyme is imported from Spain and is one of the basic herbs used in cooking. Whether fresh or dried, it is used in a large range of dishes; especially casseroles, stews and marinades, stocks, soups, sauces, roast meats, poultry and tomato dishes. Thyme is also used in flavoring stuffing, cheese, vinegar, gravies and sausages. In Spain it is added to the brine in which olives are pickled. If a recipe calls for crumbled thyme, it is easier to use the dried version.
: (Spinach oleracea) Also known as Epinard or hôren-sô, spinach is indigenous to central and southwestern Asia and was first cultivated by the Persians. By the 7th century AD, it had spread to China, and by the 11th century to Europe. Its use in England was first documented in 1551. The name for spinach came from the Persian word "ispanai" which means "green hand," which later became "spanachia," which later became “spinage” (spinach). There are three types of spinach available in U.S. supermarkets; the curly leaf, smooth leaf and the slightly curly leaf. The smooth leaf is considered the best for salads. The leaves are dark green, thin and tender with long upright stems, and have a sweeter flavor than the curly leaf types, plus the flat, smooth leaves are easier to clean. The savoy-leafed (curly or slightly curly) are better suited for cooking and processing. The leaves are broader, thicker, and more bulk is retained after cooking, plus they are much more difficult to clean due to the rougher surface of the leaf. Spinach leaves are used raw in salads or steamed, sautéed, puréed, and used in soups, pastas, omelets, sandwiches, and soufflés. Spinach is noted for its iron content, a 60 gram serving of boiled spinach contains around 1.9 mg of iron, which is almost double that of many other green vegetables. Spinach is available year-round.
: (Amaranthus gangeticus) (Also known as calaloo, Bayam, Hon-toi-moi, Tampala, or hin choy, Chinese spinach is actually an edible form of Amaranthus. This substitute for spinach is grown in India, southern Asia, China, and Japan. The colorful leaves are used in fresh salads, or boiled, steamed, stir-fried, or used in soups, stews, curries, pastas, and sauces. While Chinese spinach is used as a delicacy or a food staple in many parts of the world; use in the United States has been very limited except for canned imports, primarily in the New York City area.
: (Chenopodium capitatum) Also known as beetberry or strawberry blite, it is a very rare ancient vegetable dating back 400 years! It was rediscovered at old monasteries in Europe. It is similar to lamb's quarters in habit, although smaller in height only growing to 1 ½ feet high. Its triangular, toothed leaves are thinner than spinach, very nutritious and high in vitamins. The tender shoots are used in salads or cooked like spinach. But the real surprise is that at each leaf axle there are many sweet, strawberry-like fruits which some say resemble mulberries.
: (Ipomoea aquatica) Also known as water convolvulus, swamp cabbage, Kangkong, or Engtsai, water spinach is cultivated in many parts of Asia. There are two major cultivars of water spinach: Ching Quat, also known as “green engtsai” has narrow leaves and white flowers and is usually grown in moist soils and does not develop the swollen stem or the normal heart-shaped leaves of the aquatic form. Pak Quat, also known as “white stem” water spinach, has arrow-shaped leaves, pink flowers, and swollen stems that float on the surface of water and is grown in aquatic conditions, similar to rice. In many warm areas such as Florida, it has become a serious pest.
Water spinach leaves are elongated, pointed, and dark green with stems that are hollow. The leaf is usually sold and marketed in bundles in Asian markets. In some Asian shops, the stems alone are sold in plastic bags, looking like pale green corkscrew curls. This is because they have been cut into lengths, split into thin shreds and soaked in cold water to make them curl. Almost all parts of the young plant are edible, but the tender shoot tips and younger leaves are preferred. Water spinach may be cooked like spinach, steamed, stir-fried with various sauces, or added to soups, stews, and curries. The young tips can be used raw in salads, while the young stems can be used as an ingredient in pickles. Water spinach is high in protein, making it one of the best green-leafed foods. Like so many of the Asian plants, water spinach is relatively unknown as a food plant in the United States. Although not grown commercially in America, it is occasionally found in Asian markets.
: (Cucurbita maxima, moschata, pepo) Squashes are true natives of the "New World" and universal throughout both North and South America. The Spanish explorer, Francisco Pizarro, discovered winter squashes in Peru and archeologists discovered stems, skins, and seeds of summer squashes in the caves of the Tamaulipas Mountains of Mexico dating from 5,000 BC. The name "squash" is an abbreviation of the word "askutasquash" from the Narragansett Indians of Massachusetts. The three main catagories that exist in the Curcurbita family are; Curcurbita pepo, which includes zucchini, summer squashes, acorn, spaghetti, table queen, pumpkin, and colored gourds; Curcurbita maxima, which embraces hubbard, banana, buttercup, golden nugget, marblehead, and pumpkin; Curcurbita moschata, which includes butternut, ponca, waltham, pumpkin, and calabaza. The late-growing, less symmetrical, odd-shaped, rough or warty kinds, small to medium in size, but with long-keeping qualities and hard rinds, are usually called winter squash. The small, quick-growing forms that are eaten before the rinds and seeds begin to harden are called summer squash.
Although winter squashes are grown in many lands today; in the United States they are a relatively unimportant crop with some exceptions. Most winter squashes are grown in Tropical America, Japan, China, and in certain areas in the United States. It's interesting to note that after the 1500s, many explorers from Europe who encountered squashes and pumpkins for the first time, referred to them as melons. Though many varieties of gourds are native to Europe, squash did not exist there before Columbus came to the Americas.
All squashes are low in calories and carbohydrates, with most winter squashes containing considerable amounts of vitamins and high fiber content. The majority of squashes are exceptionally high in beta carotene; one-half cup of baked butternut squash provides 7141 IU; the same quantity of baked hubbard squash offers 6156 IU of beta carotene, while baked pumpkin provides 1320 IU. The exception is Spaghetti squash, which contains only 86 IU for that same one-half cup. Summer squashes average 250 to 300 IU for one-half cup. All squashes contain trace amounts of B vitamins including folic acid and offer a healthy dose of iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
In harvesting the squash, be sure to leave one to three inches of vine connected to the fruit, and before storing, cure the fruit. Curing is best accomplished by allowing them to remain in the sun for about ten days, since it is the sunlight that cures or hardens the skin. If there is a chance of inclement weather, keep them protected and return to the sunlight the following day.
Although winter squashes will keep for several months, many varieties lose their sweetness and moisture if kept past two or three months. The exception being banana and hubbard squashes, which will keep up to six months. Squash is used in all kinds of cuisine. They are eaten raw, boiled, fried, steamed, baked, mashed, stuffed, or used in pies, puddings, soups, bread, cake, and candy. The seeds are eaten raw, fried, roasted, or ground and used in sauces. Following are a few of the more popular squashes grown in the United States.
: (C. pepo) Also known as Table Queen or Danish, this vegetable is a green-shelled squash that resembles an acorn in shape. The squash is 5 to 7 inches in length, 4 to 5 inches in diameter, deep green in color with occasional orange streaks, and has deep ribs that taper to a point at one end. It is a small squash weighing from 1 to 3 pounds with yellow flesh that is slightly fibrous with a sweet, delicate flavor. Other cultivars of this species range in color from creamy-white to golden-yellow to orange. The acorn is a good keeper and great for cutting in half and baking. It is usually available from early July through late March.
: (C. maxima) The banana squash is a giant, round, elongated squash, up to 4 feet in length, which can weigh over 100 pounds and is nearly always cut in pieces and sold wrapped in plastic. The flesh is yellow-orange, dry, firm, non-fibrous and sweet. Banana squash is good for baking, canning, and pies. It is usually available from late August through March.
: (Sechium edule) Also known as the vegetable pear, mirliton, christophine or chocho, the chayote squash is indigenous to southern Mexico and Central America where it has been cultivated for centuries. The name “chayote” is from the Aztec word “chayotl.”
The gourd-like squash is about the size and shape of a very large pear with the blossom end folded inward. Its skin is pale green, covering white flesh with a soft seed imbedded in the middle. The mature seeds are considered the best part; sautéed in butter they have delicious nutty flavor. The fruit can be eaten raw, pickled, baked,, steamed, stuffed, made into fritters, or used in side dishes, stews, casseroles, sauces, pies, pudding and sweetmeats. The young shoots, leaves and tendrils are used like asparagus and the tuberous roots (known as chinta) are boiled, baked, fried or candied in syrup. This is an excellent vegetable that is under-utilized by the American consumer. Chayote squash is grown commercially in several states including California, Florida, and Louisiana and available in most large food stores.
: (C. pepo) Also called the sweet potato or Bohemian squash, the delicata is a small, round, elongated, and narrowly ribbed squash with light, cream-colored skin striped with dark green. Its size may range from 8 to 10 inches in length, 2 to 4 pounds in weight, with flesh that is deep orange-yellow, very fine grained, with a light sweet flavor similar to the sweet potato. The delicata squash is actually an heirloom variety that was originally introduced in 1894 and popular through the 1920s before it fell into obscurity, where it stayed until about 1970. It is a good choice for steaming or baking. Delicata squash is available from July through December and usually found in produce specialty sections or specialty food markets.
There are various other cultivars with skin color ranging from green, white, grayish-blue, and orange, and weighing from 10 to 75 pounds. This is another one of the squashes that are usually cut in pieces, wrapped in plastic, and then sold as cut squash. It is an excellent keeper and one of the best for all around baking, steaming, and pies. Hubbard squash is available late September through early May.
: (C. maxima - moschata) Kabocha is the generic Japanese word for squash and also a specific marketing name used in the United States. The kabocha is a somewhat flattened, very sweet, buttercup type squash, 2 to 7 pounds in weight, with deep yellow-orange flesh that is very dense and non-fibrous. Its skin color varies from mottled dark green all over, to mostly dark green, variegated with areas of orange and yellow. Japanese squashes are noted for their superior flavor and richness. When baked or steamed, they have a balanced flavor of the sweet potato and pumpkin. The kabocha squash is chunked, baked, steamed, braised, puréed or used for deep-fried tempura. It is a superb addition to soups and stews and makes great-tasting pies, cakes and puddings. Kabocha squash is usually available year-round and found in most large food stores.
: (C. maxima) Marblehead is a very large, uniform, spherical squash with grayish-green skin that is slightly ribbed and free of warts. Weighing up to 60 pounds, the squash’s flesh is pale orange, very thick (1½ to 2 ½ inches), and fine grained with a rich, sweet flavor. This is another one of the squashes that are usually cut in pieces, wrapped in plastic, and then sold as cut squash. It too is one of the best for all around baking, steaming, and pies. Marblehead squash is usually available September through March.
: (C. pepo) These squashes are usually harvested while still small and immature and include such cultivars as the scallops, zucchinis, cocozelle, straightnecks, crooknecks, and marrows. Some like zucchinis can be cooked and served as a vegetable, or sliced like cucumbers and used raw in salads or for dipping. Others like the scaloppini, crooknecks, cocozelle, are usually steamed, boiled, stuffed, and served as a vegetable or used in soups and stir-fries. Most summer squashes are available fresh from early May through September.
: (C. pepo) This squash has the appearance of a round, flattened, delicata squash. The small, flattened, globular fruit is 4 to 5 inches in diameter with deep high ribs and skin that is ivory-colored with dark green stripes. Its very sweet, moist, yellow-orange flesh makes this squash a seasonal favorite and a popular choice for stuffing. Weighing only about 7 to 8 ounces, it is great for stuffing and baking as individual servings. They require no curing and will keep 3 to 4 months. The sweet dumpling squash is available early August through January.
: (Sabal palmetto) Swamp cabbage is acquired from the heart of the palmetto palm tree, which is the official state tree of Florida. The palmetto palm tree is native to Florida and greatly valued as an ornamental tree across the Deep South into Texas and California. Although the palm tree grows wild in Florida, it is protected by a Florida law from indiscriminate cutting by its designation as Florida's state tree.
While the palmetto palm tree can reach heights of 80 or 90 feet, it is at the 8 to 10 foot height the heart is cut from it. The leaves are simple, fan-shaped or palmate having a half circle outline. Each blade of the leaf is 4' to 5' long and 1" to 2" wide. With 40 to 90 blades per leaf, the width can get up to 5' wide. The leaf stalk attaches the frond to the tree. It is 4' to 7 ½' long, flattened on top, and unarmed. To reach the central core, the outer leaves are cut away and the trunk is separated about 3 feet below the bud. The fronds (leafs) have a woody base called a boot; the boots are then stripped from the 3 foot section until the central core is reached. This is the part called “swamp cabbage” or better known as palm heart or “Heart of Palm.”
The heart is round and elongated in shape, creamy white in color, and composed of layers of undeveloped leaves with the consistency and texture of regular cabbage. This inner core is very sweet and prune-like in flavor. After trimming, swamp cabbage is prepared in various ways. It can be eaten raw, made into syrup, dried and made into bread, or cut into thin slices for use in salads. One of the more popular ways is to cut it into thin slices and cook it with meat seasoning until done. It can also be cooked and made into a pumpkin-like pie, or boiled with raisins and syrup as a pudding. Since getting the core of the tree requires its total destruction, authorization must be obtained prior to cutting. Swamp cabbage is not grown commercially for the fresh market but there are some small cottage businesses that produce it in small containers for retail.
: (Ipomoea batatas) Sweet potatoes are native to the tropical and subtropical areas of South America and were cultivated by the pre-Inca civilizations. Early Spanish explorers are believed to have taken the sweet potato back to Spain in the very early 1500s. By the mid-16th Century, several varieties were being grown there, including the red, purple, and white varieties. From Spain, it is believed the explorers introduced them to the Philippines and the East Indies; from where it was soon carried to India, China, and Malaya by Portuguese voyagers.
The sweet potato is far more important in subtropical and tropical areas than the common potato (Solanum tuberosum) because it thrives in a hot, moist climate, while the latter requires a cool climate. The sweet potato has never been popular in Europe and still little known, even in the warmer Mediterranean areas. It is an important food source in the warm Pacific islands, the East Indies, India, and China, and the third most important food crop in Japan. In the United States, the northern consumers prefer the “dry, white-fleshed” type, while the southerners prefer the “moist, red-fleshed types.” Generally speaking, the moist, copper-fleshed types are incorrectly called "yams" in the United States, which is an entirely different plant, belonging to the genus “Dioscorea.” The true yam is still an oddity in the United States.
Sweet potato skin colors range from nearly white, through shades of buff to brown, or through pink to copper, and even magenta to purple. The baked common potato contains only a trace of vitamin A, while the baked sweet potato has almost 9,000 IU (international units). The sweet potato has four times the calcium, and 25 percent more iron than the common potato, with only 47 more calories. Sweet potato tubers are used raw or boiled, steamed, baked, fried, mashed, batter-fried as tempura (a Japanese dish of seafood or vegetables dipped in batter and deep fried), or fermented into alcoholic beverages. They are also used in pies, cakes, bread, puddings, and cookies. Sweet potato candies, ice cream, cookies, and related delicacies prepared from this vegetable are not widely known, but are surprisingly good. Sweet potatoes are available year-round.
: (Colocasia esculenta) Also known as cocoyam, taro is believed to be native to Polynesia and the Hawaiian Islands and one of the earliest cultivated plants. The plant is usually grown in paddy fields or in upland situations where watering is supplied by rainfall or by supplemental irrigation. Taro is a traditional staple in many tropical areas of the world, and is the base for making poi in Hawaii. The plant and corm is actually inedible if ingested raw because of needle-shaped raphides (Calcium oxalate) in the plant cells. Severe gastrointestinal distress can occur unless the plant is properly processed first. Even then it should be avoided or eaten in moderation by people with kidney disorders, gout, or rheumatoid arthritis.
Taro leaves are rich in vitamins and minerals. They are a good source of thiamin, riboflavin, iron, phosphorus, and zinc, and an excellent source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, niacin, potassium, copper, and manganese. Taros are available year-round and usually found in Asian markets or in a supermarket’s specialty produce section.
The cultivated variety Physalis ixocarpa, is the one more familiar to the American consumer. Although common and well known in the United States, the tomatillo never became popular with the Europeans and is relatively unknown there. The fruit is similar to a small, tart, unripe tomato. It is about 1 to 2 inches in width and covered with a soft, light-brown, papery outer skin. The inner skin is usually green or yellow, with yellow representing ripeness. The tart, green fruit is the most often used and are firmer and easier to slice. The unripe fruits are used in salsa verde (a mild hot chili sauce), or baked, stewed, and fried, or used in dressings, purées, curries, and soups. The ripe fruits are sweeter and can be eaten out-of-hand, or added to salads and sandwiches. Tomatillos are available year-round and found in most large food stores.
(Lycopersicon esculentum lycopersicum) Tomatoes are members of the Solanaceae family, which includes such plants as petunias, tobacco, chili and sweet peppers, eggplant, potatoes, and mandrake, as well as the deadly nightshade. Although tomatoes are native to Peru and Mexico, it is believed the indigenous people of Mexico first cultivated them. In fact, the common name tomato comes from tomatl, a word for the plant in the Nahuatl language of Mexico. The Aztecs of Central America called it xitomatl.
Since the tomato plant is associated with the Solanceae family, specifically henbane, mandrake, and deadly nightshade, the British repudiated it and grew it mainly as an ornamental. English authors referred to the tomato as a horticultural ornamental as early as 1578. One of the first cookbooks to mention tomatoes was published in Naples, Italy in 1692.
with 87 percent of the U.S. crop grown in California. By 2002 over 200 square miles of tomatoes were under cultivation along with an additional estimated 35 million backyard gardens growing them.
Tomatoes have a wide range of uses. The ripe fruits are eaten raw, added to salads, stewed, puréed, stuffed, made into sauces, pastes, juice, ketchup, preserves, or used in soups and sandwiches. Unripe fruits are pickled, fried, roasted, or made into pies, marmalades, and relishes. The dried fruits, called pumate, are marinated in olive oil and used in gourmet cooking. Fermented tomato juice is marketed as Biotta or Eden. Flour made from the dried fruits may be used to flavor and thicken soups, dips, sauces, and bread.
The tomato is ranked 16th among all fruits and vegetables as a source of vitamin A; 13th in vitamin C, and contains significant amounts of lycopene, beta-carotene, magnesium, niacin, iron, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin, sodium and thiamin. The University of California ranked the tomato as the single most important fruit of western diets for a source of vitamins and minerals. The top five tomato producing countries of the world are United States, China, Turkey, Italy, and India; in that order. Within the United States, Florida, California and Georgia are the top commercial producing states with about 250 square miles under cultivation. Tomatoes are available year-round.
: (Tuber melanosporum) The black truffle, also known as the Perigord truffle, is regarded as the finest truffle in the world. The subterranean, edible fungi is found anywhere from 2 to 15 inches below the surface, usually in a circular formation about 4 to 5 feet from the base of an oak tree. Truffles are found in several areas of France, including Dauphine, Burgundy and Normandy, but these are considered inferior in quality and have a less delicate aroma and taste. Although the first actual consumption of truffles is not documented, legend has it that a pig in was digging in the dirt around an oak tree when a farmer saw her eating “her find." He watched, waiting for her to die from the "poisonous underground mushrooms. Upon seeing that the pig did not die but remained healthy, the farmer tried the mushrooms himself.
Truffles date back to the ancient Egyptians, who held truffles in high esteem and ate them coated in goose fat. The Greeks and Romans used them for therapeutic purposes, feeling they gave eternal health to the body and soul. During the middle Ages, truffles almost disappeared as food fare, since the church felt their exotic aroma was a creation by the devil. By the mid-1800s, the truffle experienced its largest growth in production, with over 2,000 tons appearing in Europe. This growth in production was did not last long. After World War I, many of the rural lands were decimated and the production was lowered dramatically. By the end of World War II, almost all of the lands were wiped out, and by 1960, production dropped to less than 400 tons. Recently though, production has begun to rise again.
It is difficult to find truffles due to the fact that they spring up spontaneously in the roots of certain trees. They are found mostly in spring, rarely coming out in cold temperatures. In the past, farmers would use pigs to search the woods, and to sniff and dig for them. Nowadays, both pigs and dogs are used to track down truffles. While the white truffle (Tuber magnatum) is very good raw, the black truffle is best cooked. Truffles are widely used to flavor patés, eggs, butter, sauces, pastas, and in dishes such as tartufi alla nursina. They can be canned, frozen, or preserved in cognac or Armagnac.
The black truffle comes almost exclusively from Europe, essentially France (45% of production), Spain (35%), and Italy (20%). The white truffle (Tuber magnatum pico is mostly found in northern and central Italy, while the whitish truffle (Tuber Borchi) is found in Tuscany, Romagna and the Marche. The summer truffle (Tuber Aestivum) is harvested from May until December with two lesser truffles, the black truffle (Tuber Macrosporum) and the scorzone truffle (Tuber Mesentericum). Truffles are considered a delicacy and their prices can be very high at times. The world's most expensive truffle was a 2 pound 16 ounce rare White Alba truffle. At the size of a small handbag, it sold for $112,000. Truffles are available year-round.
: (Tuber gibbosum) These underground fungi are harvested commercially in the Pacific Northwest and marketed throughout North America. The underground fruit-bodies are very edible and choice, and considered to be equal to the Italian white truffle. In preparing them for cooking, they only need to be brush-cleaned, then slivered, sliced, grated or crushed. Their uses include patés, omelets, as an insert under the skin of a cooking chicken or turkey, or as flavoring in rice, barley, bulghar, eggs in the shell, sour cream, butter, wines, sausages and brandy. They can also be canned or frozen. Oregon white truffles are available year-round, either fresh, canned or frozen.
: (Brassica rapa rapifera grp.) Indigenous to the Mediterranean region, turnips have been cultivated for centuries. In the first century AD, Pliny described long turnips, flat turnips, and round turnips, which he described under the names of rapa and napus. The European varieties, the most common kind, were developed in the Mediterranean area, while the Asian varieties were developed in middle Asia and west of the Himalayas. The turnip was being grown in France for both food and stock feed as early as the first century AD.
During King Henry VIII reign, turnip roots were boiled or baked and the tops were cooked as "greens," while the young shoots were used in salads. The turnip was brought to Canada in 1541 by Jacques Cartier, and by 1609, it was being planted in Virginia and from there to Massachusetts in the 1620's. Since that time, turnips have been one of the commonest garden vegetables in America. Turnips are a cool-weather crop and well adapted for the northern parts of the United States, Europe, Great Britain, and Canada.
In the southern parts of the United States, turnips and turnip greens became a popular food and an integral part of southern African and American cuisine. Since Western African cuisine traditionally utilized a wide variety of green leaves in its cooking, the African slaves adopted turnip greens as a substitute and incorporated them into their culture. In England, turnips were classified as “food for the poor” but in other nationalities it was viewed a lot more positive and put to many uses. The French braise or sauté them and serve glazed turnips with duck, and in Italy, Italians use them in risottos. The Chinese have enjoyed sweet roasted turnips for centuries, and in Japan and the Middle East, pickled turnips are very popular.
Turnip roots contain vitamin B6, fiber, calcium, manganese, and potassium and the leaves of the turnip are rich in minerals and vitamins essential to health. In America the roots are usually eaten raw, or used in soups, stews, casseroles, or pickled. In Europe, kraut is commonly made from the sliced roots. Turnip greens (leaves) should be crisp, deep green in color, and have a sweet peppery flavor. The leaves are steamed and used as a vegetable, sautéed, a garnish, or added to soups or stews. Turnips are available year-round.
: (Brassica rapa rapifera grp.) Also known as Hinona in Japan, it is one of the more popular Asian turnips. Looking like over-sized carrots, they range in size from 8 to 14 inches in length and 2 to 3 inches in diameter, with a grayish white color. The smaller white turnip is a staple in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cooking and is usually used for making “sakura zuke,” (cherry pickles) because of their cherry blossom color. The leaves and roots are often pickled and served as a garnish but they are also delicious cooked. Pickling helps to remove the harshness. The turnips should be peeled prior to cooking since the skin can be bitter and tough. The Chinese radish is usually available in Asian or produce specialty markets.
: (Ullucus tuberosus) Native to the high areas of the Andes Mountains, ulluco is a tuber similar to a potato and native to the Andes Mountains. Also known as Papa lisa and Melloca, it is an important crop in the high Andes along with potatoes, anu and oca. It is one of the most widely grown and economically important root crops in the Andean region of South America, second only to the potato. The leaf and the tuberous root are edible, similar to spinach and the potato respectively. They are known to contain high levels of protein, calcium, and carotene. The tubers are similar to potatoes and may be round or elongated with colors ranging from yellow to pink, red, purple and even candy-striped. Their waxy skins are so shiny that they almost glisten, and strangely, need no peeling before being eaten. The white to lemon-yellow flesh has a smooth, silky texture with a nutty flavor. Some types are somewhat gummy when eaten raw, but this disappears after cooking. The major appeal of the ulluco is its crisp texture which, like the jicama, remains so even when cooked.
The tubers are sliced and served raw in salads or used in soups, stews, salads, and a number of specialty dishes, including “lingli,” a local Andean recipe. Because of its high water content, the ulloco is not suitable for frying or baking. In the pickled form, it is added to hot sauces. Ulluco can also be freeze-dried to make llingli, a long-keeping product like the chuño made from the potato. Ulluco is also canned for export. At the present time, ulluco is not grown commercially in the United States and available only where grown.
: (Vanilla planifolia) Vanilla is the name given to a genus of pantropical orchids (those which occur in tropical climates) and to the flavor extract obtained from the fruit pods. The best commercial extract is obtained from Vanilla planifolia, which is a climbing vine with aerial roots and fragrant, greenish yellow flowers. The Aztecs introduced vanilla to the Spanish explorers in the early 16th century, which later became popular in Europe.
The vanilla plant is native to Mexico; although it is now grown throughout the tropics. It is an orchid vine that grows by climbing over some existing tree, pole, or other support. If left alone, it will grow as high as possible on the support, so every year; growers fold the higher parts of the plant downwards so the plant stays at heights accessible by a standing human.
There are over 150 varieties of vanilla orchids (there are 27 varieties in South Florida alone), but only two species are used commercially to flavor foods and beverages. Bourbon and Tahitian beans are botanically known as Vanilla planifolia or Vanilla fragrans, with Vanilla planifolia being the main species harvested for vanillin. Additional sources include Vanilla pompona and Vanilla tahitiensis (grown in Tahiti). Madagascar is the world's largest producer.
Vanilla beans from different parts of the world vary in flavor and fragrance. Soil and climate differences as well as methods of curing imbue unique qualities in beans. Vanilla beans grown only 20 miles apart can have subtle but distinct differences in flavor and appearance.
Vanilla was a highly regarded flavoring in Ancient Mesoamerica and was brought back to Europe by the Spanish Conquistadors. In ancient Mexico, the Totonac people from the region that is now known as the state of Veracruz, Papantla, Mexico were regarded as the producers of the best vanilla. They continued to be the world's chief producers of the flavoring through the mid 19th century.
In its native habitat vanilla is normally pollinated by bees but today vanilla beans are pollinated by hand with a wooden needle. Vanilla beans are grown in Mexico, Indonesia, and Madagascar. The beans are harvested unripe and cured by alternating night-sweating with daily sun-drying, which produces the distinct flavor and aroma. This curing process takes up to 20 days, after which they are bundled for drying and development of the full aroma. This total procedure takes about 4
to 5 months.
The Coca-Cola Corporation is the world's largest customer of natural vanilla extract. When New Coke was introduced in 1985, the economy of Madagascar crashed, and only recovered after New Coke flopped. The reason was that New Coke used vanillin, a less expensive synthetic substitute, and purchases of vanilla more than halved during this period. Vanilla extract is the foremost flavor for ice cream, puddings, cakes, chocolates, baked goods, syrups, candies, liqueurs, tobacco, perfumes, and soft drinks. In old medicinal literature, vanilla is described as an aphrodisiac and a remedy for fevers, but these uses have never been scientifically proven.
: Vegetable sprouts have a long history and have been utilized by the Chinese for centuries; not only for nutrition but medicinally too. It has only been in the last few decades that the West has fully realized their nutritional qualities. Some of the more popular sprouts are the mung, adzuki, lentil, soybeans, garbanzo beans, and peas. Other beans such as the pinto, kidney, and Lima are difficult to sprout because of the chance of their fermenting. Some sprouted legumes; soybeans, chick peas and common peas need to be blanched in boiling water for a few minutes to destroy the protein-inhibiting enzyme called trypsin. Some grass sprouts such as alfalfa, radish, red clover, and onion are better used fresh in salads like tossed salads, coleslaw, or potato salads. Listed below are a few of the more popular sprouts being utilized in the United States?
Sprouts Bean: Usually associated with the delicate shoots of mung beans that have small light yellow leaves and a silvery white shoot. Their nutty flavor and high water content make them the popular choice for stir-fries and salads. In addition, the kidney, pinto and navy beans are often sprouted to add extra variety to stir-fries and salads.
Sprouts Green-Leaf: This term is often used to describe germinated vegetable and grain seeds. They are usually identified by two tiny green leaves at the tip of a slender 1/2-inch to 3-inch shoot. These are great for using in fresh salads.
: (Eutrema japonica) Also known as Japanese horseradish, wasabi is native to Japan and the Sakhalin Islands, and is found throughout the islands where it grows naturally along the stream beds in mountain river valleys. Although similar in its pungency and use as the common horseradish (Armoracia rusticana), wasabi is considered to have a distinct flavor and pungency that is significantly more superior. Its burning flavor is more similar to hot mustard than a hot chili pepper since the vapors produced, burn the sinus cavities rather than the tongue. Wasabi is sold in root form and must be finely grated prior to use. Some sushi chefs will only use a sharkskin grater which leaves an attractive green, smooth, soft, and aromatic paste. Once the attractive green paste is prepared, it should remain covered until served to protect the flavor from evaporation. For this reason, sushi chefs usually put wasabi paste between the fish and rice. Wasabi paste is most commonly used for “sushi” and “sashimi” (sliced raw fish) and noodle (soba) dishes.
The fresh leaves of wasabi can also be eaten and have some of the hot flavor of the roots. A wasabi salad is made from leaves that are pickled overnight with a salt and vinegar based dressing, or by quickly boiling them with a little soy sauce. Additionally, the leaves can be battered and deep-fried into chips. The leaves, flowers, stems, and freshly sliced rhizomes are soaked in salt water, and then mixed with sake lees to make wasabi-zuke, a popular Japanese pickle. Because real wasabi is extremely expensive, even in Japan, almost all sushi bars in America and Japan serve imitation wasabi. Imitation wasabi paste is usually made from the common horseradish root and mustard, with green food coloring added. Processed wasabi paste or fresh roots are occasionally available in Asian food markets.
: (Zizania latifolia) Commonly known as water bamboo, Manchurian wild rice, coba, kuw-sun, kwo-bai, jiao-bai, water bamboo belongs to the Poaceae family, the same family as the common bamboo and is closely related to the wild rice of North America. Grown since ancient times, this aquatic plant is cultivated in all parts of Asia from Manchuria through eastern China to Indo-China, and east to Japan and Taiwan. The plants grow from 4 feet to 8 feet in height and the fully elongated leaves measure from 12 inches to 24 inches in length. The enlarged stems are harvested, the upper leaves cut off and only the stem with husk-like wrapper leaves are sent to market. The edible portion is the tender stem after the husks are removed. Water bamboo is a very popular vegetable throughout China. The enlarged stem is sliced and eaten raw or cooked. Although water bamboo has a much softer texture than regular bamboo, the tissues remain crisp when stir-fried.
: (Trapa natans) Also known as water chestnut, Jesuit nut, or Ling-chio, the water caltrop is indigenous throughout southern Europe and eastward into China. In parts of the eastern United States, it has become a pest since it can quickly form mats on the surface of water. The generic name “trapa” came from the Latin word for thistle (calcitrappa), as is “caltrop.” Caltrop refers to an iron weapon with four points used in medieval times to pierce the hooves of enemy cavalry horses.
is a floating aquatic plant, growing in slow-moving water up to 15 feet in depth in the warm temperate zones of some countries. They bear elaborate-shaped fruits containing a single very large starchy seed. The fruit is a nut (seed) with four 1/2 inch barbed spines which can remain viable up to 12 years. The plant spreads by the fruits detaching from the stem and floating to another area or by clinging to objects like birds and other animals.
During the 19th century it was possible to purchase water caltrops in markets throughout Europe and in Italy where the nuts were roasted similar to sweet chestnuts and sold. Today however, the nuts are almost unknown to the American consumer and rarely used. The sweet caltop nuts are eaten raw, roasted, boiled, fried like a vegetable, or preserved in honey and sugar, candied, or ground into flour for making bread. Water caltrop is not grown commercially in the United States; however there are a few small cottage enterprises that offer them for the retail market.
: (Nasturtium officinale) Watercress is believed by some to be native to Europe or England, but others think it may be more universal since it has been found growing wild in many countries, including North America and New Zealand. The plant is usually found growing in shallow ditches with gently flowing water or in slow moving streams. The first commercial cultivation of watercress was recorded in Germany around 1750 and in England in 1808. Almost all commercial cultivation is now produced in chalk or limestone springs or pure stream water in order to provide watercress free from any pollution that may endanger the consumer.
Watercress can be found in most slow, cool running streams throughout the United States. The leaves are smooth and intricate, with three to a dozen nearly round leaflets with a tart-like flavor. When collecting, cut only the foliage above water, as the roots are not as palatable as the leaves. Other than being used for cress sandwiches for which it is generally known, water cress can be added to a multitude of dishes, including tossed, tuna, potato, and egg salads that will benefit from its zesty flavor. It is also used is soups, canapés, omelets, stir-fried dishes, and as a substitute for a steamed green vegetable in place of spinach, kale, or Swiss chard. When cooking, never cook longer than the softening of the leaves, otherwise the valuable vitamins and minerals will be lost. Care should also be taken when eating watercress from an unknown source, since the unwashed plant (especially if grown wild) can transmit “Fasciolopsiasis,” a liver fluke (worm) infestation disease. Wild watercress is usually available in May, while the commercial grown watercress is usually available year-round.
: (Eleocharis dulcis) Also known as the Chinese water chestnut, Matai or simply the water chestnut, the Chinese water chestnut should not be confused with the unrelated water caltrop (Trapa natans), which is also known as water chestnut. The Chinese water chestnut is native to China and widely cultivated in southern China and parts of the Philippines. The small, rounded corms have a crispy white flesh and can be eaten raw, slightly boiled, grilled, pickled, canned, or dried for later use. They are a popular ingredient in Western-style Chinese dishes and in China; they are most often eaten raw, stir-fried, or used in chop suey. They are also ground into flour which is used to make fried cakes called “matigao,” or to thicken sauces and to give a crispy coating to foods that are deep-fried.
Chinese water chestnuts are unusual among vegetables for remaining crisp even after being cooked or canned. They share this ability with other vegetables that remain crisp such as the tiger nut and lotus root. Water chestnuts are rich in carbohydrates (about 90% by dry weight), especially starch (about 60% by dry weight), and are a good source of fiber, riboflavin, vitamin B6, potassium, copper, and manganese. Care should be taken when eating fresh corms uncooked that come from unregulated ponds, since the skin of the plant can transmit “Fasciolopsiasis,” a liver fluke (worm) infestation disease. Fresh Chinese water chestnuts are usually available in Asian markets or from supermarkets in the more available form, canned.
: (Cucumis anguria) The West Indian gherkin is native to the tropical zones of East Asia and is used in a similar fashion as the common cucumber. Introduced into the United States in the early 1800s, the gherkin was never really accepted and remains an oddity to the American consumer. It is similar in appearance to the African horned melon “cucumis metuliferus” with highly warted skin, long spines, and a large cavity filled with seeds. The young prickly fruits are peeled and eaten raw or boiled and served with hot pepper sauce, added to soups or made into pickles. The flesh is white, firm, and has an excellent cucumber flavor without a trace of bitterness. When pickled, the spongy flesh absorbs a large measure of vinegar. The West Indian gherkin is not available commercially, but is occasionally found in specialty produce markets.
: (Benincasa hispida) The Chinese winter melon is also known as Pinyin, Doan gwa white gourd, ash gourd, wax gourd, and fuzzy melon. Originally domesticated in Southeast Asia, the winter melon is now widely grown in East Asia and South Asia as well. The fruit is fuzzy when young (giving rise to the name of fuzzy melon) but by maturity, the fruit loses its hairs and develops a waxy coating (giving rise to the name wax gourd) which helps to provide a long shelf life. The melons usually weigh in excess of 30 pounds and are harvested when mature and have developed a white wax bloom on the skin. The mature melon can be stored for 3 to 4 months over the wintertime. The flavor is mild and the white flesh is a main ingredient in chicken broth soup along with other vegetables or it is used in stir fry with pork, onions, and mizuna.
: (Dioscorea alata) Yam is the universal name for members of the genus “Dioscorea,” which consists of more than 600 species. Some species are cultivated for their starchy tubers, especially in areas of Africa, Asia, New Guinea, South America, Polynesia, and Latin America. Of the edible species; the greater yam, yellow yam, and the white yam are the most common.
The greater yam is native to South-East Asia, while the latter two are native to Africa, which produces nearly 90 per cent of the world's yams. The word yam comes from the Wolof word “nyami,” meaning to eat. The tubers can grow to seven feet and weigh up to 150 pounds. They usually have a rough skin which is difficult to peel; with skin colors varying from dark brown to light pink. The flesh ranges in color from purple to pink, white to yellow, and to orange or red with a flavor that ranges from insipid to pleasant and floury when baked. Yams were first cultivated in Africa and Asia long before recorded history and they still remain crucial to survival in those areas. They can be stored from four to six months without refrigeration, which makes them a valuable resource in periods of food scarcity.
The people of Hawaii and the Polynesian islands eat the tubers after cooking them in an underground oven and West Africans eat the tubers boiled, baked, roasted, mashed, fried or made into flour. A dough is also made by pounding the boiled and peeled tubers into a sticky mass that is called “fufu,” which is served with vegetable stews. In making yam flour, the tubers are sliced to a thickness of about 1/3 of an inch, then parboiled and allowed to cool in the cooking water. Once cooled, the parboiled slices are then peeled and dried in the sun. When dried, the slices are ground to flour in a wooden mortar and repeatedly sieved to produce a uniform texture. During the drying process, treatment with sodium bisulfate is often used to prevent oxidation which darkens the color of the product. Yam flour, when re-hydrated produces kokonte, which adds carbohydrates to meat and fish dishes. 100 grams of yam, fully baked contains 116 calories with most of the calories in the starch. Yam tubers are a good source of Vitamin B-6, potassium, and manganese. The starch is slower to break down compared to other tubers like the potato and sweet potato.
The greater yam has been classified as an invasive vine in Florida and is closely related to the air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera). It is known to have “disrupted” natural plant communities, particularly coastal hammocks in south Florida. Like the air potato, greater yams also produce large numbers of edible aerial tubers, which are potato-like growths attached to stems, in addition to the their edible underground tubers.
Sadly, this vegetable, which is so heavily utilized in other countries, is grossly under-utilized in America. With proper marketing and consumer education, this yam has the capacity to become a commercial success. The greater yam is not produced commercially in the United States. Following are some of the more common yams being utilized as a food source.
: (Dioscorea dumetorum) The bitter yam, also called trifoliate yam because of its leaves, originated in Africa where other wild cultivars exist. One of the undesired characteristics beside its bitterness is; the flesh will harden if not cooked soon after harvest. Some these cultivars are highly poisonous. Bitter yam flesh is toxic raw and is not normally eaten except in times of food scarcity. They are usually detoxified by soaking the tubers in a vessel of salt water, in cold or hot fresh water, or in a stream. In Asia, the elimination of the toxic alkaloids involves water extraction, fermentation and roasting of the grated tuber since heat destroys the toxins. The toxic substance in bitter yams (Dioscorea dumetorum) as been identified as the alkaloid dihydrodioscorine, while that of the Malayan species (Dioscorea hispida), is dioscorine. These are water-soluble alkaloids, which on ingestion, produce severe and distressing stomach cramps.
: (Dioscorea opposita) The Chinese yam is also known as the cinnamon vine, Japanese mountain yam, Korean yam, nagaimo or yamaimo in Japanese, depending on its shape, and as huái shân, shân yào, or huái shân yào in China. They are usually found in valleys and on the slopes of hills in China, Japan and Korea. The tuberous roots are up to 3 feet in length, elongated, club-shaped, and grow deep in the ground. Of the four species, Dioscorea opposita, Dioscorea batatas, Dioscorea polystachya, and Dioscorea oppositifolia, the Chinese yam is an exception to the rule that yams must be cooked before consumption (due to harmful oxalate crystals found in their skin).
The Chinese yam is eaten raw and grated after only a minimal preparation; where the tubers are briefly soaked in a vinegar-water solution to neutralize the oxalate crystals. The raw vegetable is starchy, bland and mucilaginous when grated. The yams can be served as a side dish or added to noodles. They are also boiled, baked, fried, mashed, grated, and mixed with vinegar, or added to soups, and the Japanese use them in a cold noodle dish called “tororo udon.” The yam is seldom cultivated outside of China and Japan but it is found occasionally in some Asian food markets.
: (Dioscorea rotundata) The white yam, which originated in Africa, is the most widely grown and preferred yam species. The tuber is roughly round and elongated in shape, with smooth brown skin and firm white flesh.
: (Dioscorea cayenensis) The yellow yam derives its common name from its yellow flesh, which is caused by the presence of carotenoids. It is also native to West Africa and very similar to the white yam in appearance. It is the yellow yam which is most commonly used in Caribbean cuisine and can be substituted well in any recipe calling for the common potato.
: (Polymnia sonchifolia) Also known as Llacon, strawberry jicama, or Bolivian sunroot, yacon is native to the warm, temperate Andean valleys of South America and can be found at altitudes of 13, 000 feet. The plant is a member of the sunflower family and although sometimes confused with jicama, there is no family connection between the two. Yacón produces two types of roots; propagation roots and storage roots. Propagation roots grow just under the surface and resemble Jerusalem artichokes, while the storage roots are large, tuberous, and similar to dahlia tubers. These edible tubers contain “inulin”, an indigestible sugar, which means that although they have a sweet flavor, they contain no calories and should be of considerable value to dieters and people with diabetes.
Yacón is nearly unknown in the United States but there have been recent attempts to introduce it into food stores, farmer markets and natural food stores. At the present time, it is only found in specialty food stores or produce specialty food sections in large food stores.
Looking back to the mid-20th Century, most will agree we have witnessed spectacular changes in the fruit and vegetable industry. The United States is now leading the world in quality, freshness, safety, and presentation of produce. Through innovations and ingenuity, we are setting the standards for the world market.
The following pages are not intended to be absolutes in the procuring and handling of fruits and vegetables. They are designed to help consumers in how they handle and store produce for future use. The procedures contained herein are for guidance only. The very nature of fruits and vegetables and their physiological variability’s prevent complete standardization.
Because the consumers are usually the final link in the produce distribution channel, their use of proper handling techniques are vital in the maintenance of quality produce. However, the quality of the fruits and vegetables they receive are no better than the quality the suppliers receive. Obviously, consumers do not control this factor; however, there are a few things consumers can do to prevent further degeneration and help maintain the quality of the product after they have purchased it.
Like other forms of life, fruits and vegetables show increasingly visible signs of aging. As they age, certain chemical and physiological changes occur. To sustain those inevitable changes, energy is drawn from the food reserves stored in the plant material at the time of harvest.
Learning how produce changes during this aging process will help you to understand what you can do to slow down the aging process in order to maintain freshness. Most of the chemical and physical change is associated with breathing. Every living fruit or vegetable breathes or respires, much like other living things. Oxygen is used in the breathing process, initiating complex chemical changes. With the help of enzymes, oxygen integrates with plant sugars and starches, converting them into carbon dioxide and water and emitting heat. Some commodities breathe at a much faster rate than others do. Corn and strawberries, for example, breathe rapidly compared to dry onions or winter squash. The faster the respiration rate, the faster the product will become old. The key to quality control is to slow down the respiration rates.
Temperature greatly affects how fast fruit and vegetables breathe: The higher the temperature, the faster the respiration rate. In general, the respiration rate doubles for every 18°F. rise in temperature above 32°F. Strawberries, however, will respire ten times faster at room temperature than at 32°F. One day at 72º F will take as much life out of apples as ten days at 30º F. Sweet corn will burn up almost half of its natural sugar in one day at room temperature, yet only five percent of the sugars are converted in one day at 32°F.
Ethylene gas is a by-product of respiration. It is potentially harmful to the freshness of product if allowed to accumulate excessively in the atmosphere surrounding the product. Ethylene induces the ripening process, and is known as an aging stimulant. Artificial additions of ethylene are used extensively to speed the ripening of bananas in transit or at a warehouse; to hasten ripening of melons or to assist the de-greening of citrus.
For ripe fruit, one should be aware of the need to allow ethylene to escape from the atmosphere of the products. Ripe fruit packed in a plastic or paper bag is certain to build up excessive ethylene concentrations, which in turn will accelerate aging. Once that fruit approaches full ripeness, the container should be opened to aid ventilation and ethylene removal.
When the goal is to speed up ripening by allowing ethylene to accumulate, as with green bananas or firm fruit, the bags should be located where they will be close to room temperature. Once the fruits have ripened to the best point for eating, the bags can be opened to allow the ethylene to disperse and the fruit can then be stored in a cooler place or in refrigeration to slow down respiration.
There are two periods when action can save time and money; first, by proper inspection when buying and second, by taking care of the produce immediately upon arriving at home. Urgent action can help restore commodities to their original fresh, crisp looking condition. Do not let commodities deteriorate to a point where nothing will help.
Here is the reason why you condition vegetables. Plants draw water up through the stems to the leaves by capillary attraction. Small ducts carry the water up through all parts of the vegetables. Cut surfaces oxidize and seal themselves in a very short time, so the stem ends should be freshly trimmed before immersion in the water. The length of time depends on the condition of the merchandise and may vary from a few minutes to overnight.
The water used to wash and recondition vegetables should never be ice cold. Vegetables will absorb water much faster in tepid (hand temperature) water. Do not take shortcuts; your own experience will determine the extent of the conditioning required.
Some fruits quit manufacturing sugar once they are picked, in other words, they are as sweet and ripe as they are ever going to be. Fruits such as grapes, apples, watermelons, berries, citrus and cherries will only suffer deterioration if left to ripen further. With the exception of citrus, these fruits should be refrigerated as soon as possible
Other fruits such as peaches, nectarines, apricots, pears, bananas, pineapples, plums, and most melons such as honeydews and cantaloupes will continue to ripen after they are picked, and will continue to ripen if stored at room temperature. Leaving them in a closed brown paper bag at room temperature will enhance the ripening process. Once proper ripeness has been accomplished, they can be moved to refrigeration. Some fruits, such as bananas and tomatoes should never be refrigerated except as a last resort. Potatoes should always be stored away from heat and light. Even fluorescence or incandescent lighting will cause greening or sprouting in potatoes.
Most vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, celery, green onions, etc, can be restored or kept in optimum condition by immersing in water, drained, and then wrapped in a paper towel to reduce dehydration and placed under refrigeration. Leafy greens such as parsley, watercress, mustard greens, cilantro, and most herbs can be restored to original freshness by immersing in water, drained well, and put in a plastic bag overnight under refrigeration.
· Angelica usually blooms on the day of Michael the Archangel, May 8th, and for that reason, in medieval times, it was used to ward off evil spirits and witchcraft.
· Legend says that Angelica was revealed in a dream by an angel to cure the plague.
· King Edward IV slept on linen perfumed with anise
· Anise acts like catnip for dogs and racing greyhounds chase a fake rabbit soaked in the oil
· At one time in the West Indies the native people, Arawaks, used arrowroot powder to draw out the toxin from wounds created by poison arrows
· According to an Aegean legend, the first artichoke was a lovely young maiden named Cynara
· Asparagus was once considered a cure-all for almost everything, such as prevention of bee stings, heart trouble, dropsy, and toothaches
· America once had 5 million acres of native bamboo known as Cane brake (Arundinaria gigantea) growing in the southeastern states
· Goa beans have been called the "wonder vegetable" since practically all of the plant is edible
· The Romans used beet root as a treatment for fevers and constipation.
· Apicius, in “The Art of Cooking” gives five recipes for soups used as a laxative, three of which feature the root of beet.
· Hippocrates recommended the use of beet leaves as binding for wounds and unadulterated beet root juice was believed to be an aphrodisiac during Roman times.
· Beet and beet juice is an essential ingredient of Russian borscht
· Medicinally, bitter melons have been used for diabetes, as a carminative (expelling gas) for colic, for sores, wounds, and for infections
· Broccoli is known as the "Crown Jewel of Nutrition" because of its richness in vitamins and minerals
· Brussel sprouts are believed to be a mutation of the savoy cabbage
· During the 18th and 19th century, cabbages were being stored on ships making long voyages to help stave off scurvy.
· The world’s heaviest cabbage was grown by Bernard Lavery of Llanharry, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Wales, in 1989, weighing 124 lbs
· A giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea) measuring 8 ft 8 inches in circumference and weighing 48 lbs 8 oz was found by Jean-Guy Richard of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in 1987.
· The yellowish-olive Death Cap (Amanita phalloides), which can be found in Britain, is the world's most poisonous fungus, responsible for 90% of fatal poisonings caused by fungi.
· The world’s longest corncob was grown by Bernard Lavery of Llannary, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Wales, in 1994, and measured 36.25 inches in length.
· The world's largest (living) carrot was grown in Palmer, Alaska by John Evans in 1998, and weighed 18.99 pounds
· The longest carrot recognized so far, was grown in 1975 by a gardener in California; a record 38 ½ inches from crown to root tip.
· Prior to the 16th century, celery root was used almost exclusively for medicinal purposes
· Celtuce lettuce is high in vitamin C; up to four times that of iceberg lettuce
· When shopping for Chinese vegetables, one needs to remember that in Cantonese, “choy” means vegetable and “sum” means heart or flowering stem
· Care should be taken when eating fresh greens (watercress) or corms (water chestnuts) uncooked that come from unregulated ponds, since the leaves or skin of the plant or corm can transmit “Fasciolopsiasis,” a liver fluke (worm) infestation disease
· Romans believed chives would relieve pain from sunburn or a sore throat and that eating them would act as a diuretic
· Corn is the most widely distributed crop in the world and can grow at altitudes as high as 12,000 feet in the South American Andes Mountains or as low as sea level
· Corn was first cultivated by the Mayan, Aztec, and Inca Indians more than 5,600 years ago
· Daikons, (Chinese radish) have been developed in the Orient which develop very large roots, reportedly up to 40 or 50 pounds, with a leaf top spread of more than 2 feet
· Dill seed oil is also used in condiments, chewing gum, meat products, and candy
· In folklore beliefs, garlic was connected to good luck and protection against evil. The aroma was said to ward off sorcerers, werewolves, warlocks, and of course, vampires
· In ancient Greece and Rome, garlic was used to repel scorpions, for treating dog bites, bladder infections, asthma, and for curing leprosy
· During World War II, when penicillin and sulfa drugs were scarce, garlic was used as an antiseptic to disinfect open wounds and prevent gangrene
· Research shows that an enzyme contained within garlic combines with an amino acid and creates a compound, called allicin, which has been shown to kill 23 types of bacteria, including salmonella and staphylococcus
· A pound of ginger during the 14th century was valued at the price of one sheep.
· Experiments have shown that bottle gourds will survive floating in sea water for more than 220 days with no loss of seed viability
· The greater yam tubers can grow to seven feet and weigh up to 150 pounds
· Spice blends should be so skillful that only an expert can tell which ones are used
· Always keep in mind that dried herbs are three to four times stronger than fresh herbs
· Because wasabi roots or paste is extremely expensive, even in Japan, almost all sushi bars in America and Japan serve imitation wasabi, which is made from the common horseradish root and mustard, with green food coloring added
· The stems, leaves, pods, and seeds of the jicama plant contain a chemical compound called rotenone which is a natural insecticide
· When cast over the surface of a lake or river, rotenone affects the gills of fish, depriving them of oxygen and the stunned fish rise to the surface where they are easily caught.
· Flowering kale or Savoy cabbage when properly cut and trimmed, makes a beautiful centerpiece for special occasions, or for holding dips and snacks
· Early Chinese records tell of kudzu fiber from the stems being used in making "grass" cloth and paper
· Kudzu tap roots are massive and can reach a depth of 12 feet in older patches and weigh as much as 200 to 300 pounds
· Kudzu powder is a remarkable starch-like extract of the kudzu root and is used in Japan as a key ingredient in fine cuisine
· Kudzu powder can be used like arrowroot or cornstarch as a thickener in sauces or soups, or as a crispy coating for deep-fried foods like agar or gelatin
· The leek is one of the national emblems of Wales, whose citizens wear it on St. David's Day
· Lentils are among the world's oldest cultivated foods
· One of the largest crisp-head lettuce ever grown was in 1974 by Colin Bowcock of Willaston, England, which weighed 25 pounds
· Egyptians were the first to make marshmallows by boiling pieces of the marsh mallow root pulp with sugar until it thickened; then strained and cooled
· As far back as 2000 BC, Egyptians combined the marsh mallow root with honey to make a confection, which was reserved for gods and royalty
· According to the Egyptian Hieroglyphics of 4600 years ago, the ancient Egyptians believed mushrooms were the plant of immortality
· The pharaohs of Egypt were so intrigued with mushrooms; they decreed they were food for royalty and gods, and that no commoner could ever touch them
· Egyptians worshipped onions, believing that its spherical shape and concentric rings symbolized eternal life
· Roman gladiators rubbed their muscles down with onions in order to firm them up
· The ancient Greeks believed parsley was sacred, using it to not only adorn victors of athletic contests, but for decorating the tombs of the deceased as well
· Medieval Europeans believed that one could kill an enemy by plucking a sprig of parsley while speaking the person’s name
· During World War II, parsnips were used to make mock bananas
· The roots of several hardy vegetables, i/e, parsnips, rutabagas, carrots, and turnips, will survive freezing if left in the soil undisturbed
· Bell peppers are one of the best known domesticated plants in the world
· Green peppers has twice the amount of vitamin C by weight than citrus fruits, and the more mature red bell peppers have three times as much vitamin C as the green varieties, plus they are a good source of beta carotene
· The substance that makes the chile pepper so hot is called capsaicin
· The fiery hot flavor of chile peppers is concentrated along the stem end of the pod, which has glands that produce capsaicin, which then flows down through the pod. By removing the seeds and inner membranes, you can effectively reduce the heat of a pod.
· Peppers range in heat from 0 Scoville units for sweet bell peppers to more than 300,000 Scoville units for the habenero pepper
· In Asia centuries ago, perilla was considered to be alive and held as sacred, sent by God as food and medicine to treat the afflictions of man
· In ancient times, contempt for the perilla plant meant death; anyone caught destroying the plant would be put to death
· Those who have eaten Peruvian carrots, say they are far superior to carrots and potatoes, both in flavor and texture.
· Black radishes were the first to be cultivated, while white radishes were not recorded in Europe until the late 16th Century and the round radish did not appear until the 18th century, with the red radish emerging around the same time
· In former days, a common and affordable sweet for children in Yorkshire, England, was a tender stick of rhubarb, dipped in abundant amounts of sugar
· Soybean oil is used in making paints, disinfectants, salad dressing, crayons, and ink. It is even used to produce a diesel fuel that smells like french-fries when burned
· In ancient times, a handful of cardamom was worth a poor man's yearly wage, and slaves were bought and sold for just a few cups of peppercorns
· America's first millionaires made their money in the spice trade
· From the early Roman times until the middle of the 16th century, pepper was one of the most valuable commodities in the world, and at one time, was used as a form of currency
· In the old days, people could pay their rent in peppercorns, families would give endowments of pepper for their daughters’ dowry, government officials could be bribed with it, and debts could be paid
· Cayenne pepper is sometimes adulterated with oxide of red lead, which may be detected by dissolving it in dilute nitric acid. Another adulterant is colored sawdust, which can be detected with the aid of a microscope
· In the ancient world, cinnamon was more precious than gold, and in the first century AD, Pliny the Elder wrote of 350 grams of cinnamon being equal in value to over five kilograms of silver, about fifteen times the value of silver per weight
· The name cloves, comes from the French "clou", meaning nail
· The nutmeg fruit is very toxic and hallucinogenic and eating one can produce stomach pain, double vision, delirium and other symptoms of poisoning. Eating as few as two nutmegs may result in death.
· Soybeans were introduced to America during the 18th Century when they were used as ballast to stabilize the ships arriving from China
· The name "squash" is an abbreviation of the word "askutasquash" from the Narragansett Indians of Massachusetts
· Kabocha is the generic Japanese word for squash and also a specific marketing name used in the United States
· The sweet potato has four times the calcium, and 25 percent more iron than the common potato, with only 47 more calories
· Taro root (used in Hawaiian poi) should be avoided or eaten in moderation by people with kidney disorders, gout, or rheumatoid arthritis because of needle-shaped raphides (Calcium oxalate) in the plant cells
· The tallest tomato plant was 65 feet, grown hydroponically by Nutriculture Ltd., Mawdesley, Lancashire, England, on May 11, 2000
· Gordon Graham of Edmund, Oklahoma, grew the world’s largest tomato fruit with a weight of 7 pounds 12 ounces
· The black truffle, also known as the Perigord truffle, is regarded as the finest truffle in the world
· Truffles date back to the ancient Egyptians, who held truffles in high esteem and ate them coated in goose fat
· Ulluco is one of the most widely grown and economically important root crops in the Andean region of South America, second only to the potato
· The generic name Trapa natans, also known as water caltrop or water chestnut, came from the Latin word for thistle (calcitrappa), as is “caltrop.” Caltrop refers to an iron weapon with four points used in medieval times to pierce the hooves of enemy cavalry horses
· Green cabbage is packed with sulforaphane, isothiocyanates and indoles, natural chemicals that stimulate the production of cancer-fighting enzymes
· Red cabbage contains anthocyanins, a class of powerful antioxidants that may decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke by inhibiting blood clot formation
· The average ear of sweet corn has 800 kernels arranged in 16 rows
· The average American eats 25 pounds of corn each year! It's the seventh most popular vegetable
· The cucumber's dark green skin contains lutein and xeazanthin, carotenoids that help fight cataracts and macular degeneration, which can cause blindness
· Because it contains a toxin that can only be destroyed with heat, eggplant MUST be cooked before eating.
· Iceberg lettuce, originally called crisp head, is the second most popular vegetable in the U.S., second only to potatoes
· The average American eats about 126 pounds of potatoes a year
· "Zucchini" is named after an Italian word meaning "sweetest."
· Brocolli is the only vegetable that is a flower
· One medium full-size carrot provides 220% of the daily requirement for vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, which has a beneficial effect on eye and skin health and may decrease risk for certain cancers.
· Like its purple friends, plums and blackberries, eggplants contain anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that may help in protecting you against heart disease and stroke