Welcome to the Botanist in the Kitchen!
A person can learn a lot about plants through the everyday acts of slicing and eating them. This space is devoted to exploring food plants in all their beautiful detail as plants – as living organisms with their own evolutionary history and ecological interactions. Our goal is three-fold: to share the fascinating biology of our food plants, to teach biology using edible, familiar examples, and to suggest delicious ways to bring the plants and their stories to your table.
To judge by the questions we are often asked at dinner parties (“What is an artichoke?” “Why is okra slimy?”), some curious eaters genuinely want to know which plant part they are eating and how its identity affects the characteristics of the food. We delve into such questions here while suggesting recipes and activities that highlight the botanical aspects of food. We think of it as part botany lab, part home cooking show.
We focus on food plants because we love to eat them, and they make terrific botanical subjects: they are familiar and available, their parts have been greatly exaggerated through breeding, and they are usually not dangerous. There would be nothing to talk about here if the plants we eat did not have a history stretching much farther back than 19th-century heirloom varieties or even the dawn of agriculture. Eggplant and okra, rhubarb, artichokes, pomegranates, figs, and Brussels sprouts . . . where did all this vegetative diversity come from? Like all living things, food plants have been shaped by a long and complicated evolutionary history of struggling to survive and reproduce in the midst of others struggling to do just the same.
If the chemical makeup of plants depended on only the basic biochemical processes required to sustain life, plants might all taste pretty much the same – probably watery and a bit green. Instead, the shape and texture of various parts have evolved according to the role that each part plays in the life of the plant, such as support, photosynthesis, storage, or reproduction. The flavors and nutrient content of plant foods also reflect many thousands or even millions of years of co-evolution with animals that disperse their seeds or eat their leaves. In the end, the way plants taste and behave in our kitchens depends on which parts we eat, how those parts function, and the way they interact with friends and foes – all of which are inextricable from evolutionary history.
Thanks so much for visiting our site. We hope you enjoy the plant stories and recipes and that both will make appearances at your table. Please let us know what you think!