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!
Terrific blog. Thank you!!
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Thanks so much for reading and for feedback!
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Making the science understandable, you are! Thank you.
So interesting. Please send me your posts in future. Thanks.
Thanks, Tamara! You can follow the blog by clicking on the “follow” link. If you use Twitter you can follow us there too. We have been behind on our posts lately due to busy things for both Jeanne and me, but we will be back to it soon!
This is a fascinating website, kudos to you!
I remember taking a class in systematic biology in college, and the professor used everyday food plants as an activity. We had a smorgasbord of plants, and also fungi. You had to identify it before you could eat it. I still remember tossing the coconut out the second floor window and then running downstairs to hunt for the piece with the embryo in it.
I like that lesson plan. Thanks for reading!
Fascinating. How fun!
I’m a Botanist, and you girls, have made my day ! Your work is great ! keep it up!
Hi there Kitcehn Botanist!
My 3rd year University class today had an interesting diversion from cytogenetics with a segue into banana morphology… and a couple of them had bananas in their lunch, and proceeded to do an ad hoc dissection to check whether what I had told them about it being a well behaved monocot with 3 fused locules was true… In finding up some follow-up information I found your site and the banana page – wonderfully to see so much info all in one place! I have no alerted the to this link.
I really enjoy using food to teach plant science, and so you might be interested to see some of the student videos they have done for this course in the previous couple of years at https://www.up.ac.za/plant-and-soil-sciences/article/2742689/plant-blindness
Nigel Barker (Professor and Head of Department of Plant & Soil Sciences, University of Pretoria, South Africa)
Thanks, Nigel. I’m so glad that you and the students found the site useful. That’s one reason we do this! And thanks for sharing the videos. I especially love the idea of having the class research controversies. Looks like a great class.
This is outstanding, Nigel. Thank you for sharing this experience your students and how the blog supported your lesson. Their videos are wonderful!