The United Nations declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses. What’s a pulse? It’s the dry mature seed of a large number of species in the legume family (Fabaceae): various beans, peas, soybean, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts and other groundnuts. 2016 is days from ending, so it’s high time I get up the Fabaceae diversity post I’ve been meaning to write all year long. This rounds out our year of legume coverage, which included Katherine’s posts on bean anatomy, peanuts, and green beans.
Christmas Lima beans (Phaseolus lunatus), soaking before cooking
One out of every 15 flowering plant (angiosperm) species is a legume, a member of the large plant family Fabaceae (Christenhusz and Byng 2016, LPWG 2013). Boasting around 19,500 species in 750-ish genera (LPWG 2013), the Fabaceae is the third-largest plant family in the world, trailing behind only the orchid (Orchidaceae: 27,800 species) and aster (Asteraceae: 25,040 species) families (Stevens 2016). By my count, people only use about 1% of legume species for food (my list of edible legume species is found here), but that small fraction of species is mighty. People eat and grow legumes because they are nutritional superstars, can be found in almost all terrestrial ecosystems around the world, and uniquely contribute to soil fertility in both wild and agricultural ecosystems. Continue reading
Infinity scarves? No. They won’t keep doctors away. Apples are the ultimate everyday accessory (fruit). Katherine explains where the star in the apple comes from. Could it be due to a random doubling of chromosomes? We also give readers the chance to test their apple knowledge with a video quiz.
Although apples are not particularly American – nor is apple pie – they color our landscape from New York City to Washington State, all thanks to Johnny Appleseed. Or so goes the legend. Everyone already knows a lot about apples, and for those wanting more, there are many engaging and beautifully written stories of their cultural history, diversity, and uses. See the reference list below for some good ones. There is no way I could cover the same ground, so instead I’ll keep this post short and sweet (or crisp and tart) by focusing on apple fruit structure and some interesting new studies that shed light on it.
Of course if you do want to learn more about apple history but have only 5 minutes, or if you want to test your current knowledge, take our video quiz! It’s at the bottom of this page. Continue reading
What is hairy, green, full of slime, and delicious covered in chocolate? It has to be okra, bhindi, gumbo, Abelmoschus esculentus, the edible parent of musk. Katherine explores okra structure, its kinship with chocolate, and especially its slippery nature. What’s not to like?
Okra flower with red fruit below
People often ask me about okra slime. Rarely do they ask for a good chocolate and okra recipe, which I will share unbidden. With or without the chocolate, though, okra is a tasty vegetable. The fruits can be fried, pickled, roasted, sautéed, and stewed. Young leaves are also edible, although I have never tried them and have no recipes. Okra fruits are low in calories and glycemic index and high in vitamin C, fiber, and minerals. The plant grows vigorously and quickly in hot climates, producing large and lovely cream colored flowers with red centers and imbricate petals. The bright green or rich burgundy young fruits are covered in soft hairs. When they are sliced raw, they look like intricate lace doilies. In stews, the slices look coarser, like wagon wheels. And yes, okra is slimy. And it is in the mallow family (Malvaceae), along with cotton, hibiscus, durian fruit, and chocolate. Continue reading
A shorter version of this essay appears in the Autumn 2013 issue of the beautiful, creative online magazine Soiled and Seeded. Here Katherine and Jeanne explain the topological relationship between figs and mulberries and do a little investigative journalism.
Figs and mulberries are both gorgeous, sexy fruits, but in very different ways. At first blush a mulberry could be the fragile hot-mess cousin of a blackberry, while figs are classically sensual fruits, like marble nudes teetering on the edge of vulgar. For all their fleshy assertiveness, both fruits keep their secrets; and it takes more than a long, intense gaze to uncover their close relationship and know what makes them sweet. Mulberries may look like blackberries (and share a taxonomic order), but they are built from different plant components. The true siblings are mulberries and figs (both in family Moraceae), and at heart they are very much alike, although figs are clearly the more introverted of the two. Continue reading
Can we call quinoa a grain? Why do people care? Where did all these geese feet come from, and what does Ban Ki-moon have to do with it? On long winter runs, Katherine’s mind wanders over such questions.
Quinoa seeds (Chenopodium quinoa)
In the final two months of 2012, questions about quinoa and its status as a “grain” came up three separate times within my earshot. This was odd in itself, but it launched a cascade of coincidences. On a run near the baylands, my mind was idling back over those conversations, when I noticed for the first time a little weed along the trail, looking much like one of quinoa’s relatives, a saltbush. (The crushed specimen I carried home in my shoe laces keyed out as Atriplex semibaccata, Australian saltbush.) There is also a gorgeous and much larger saltbush species along the trail, and yet another relative, an edible Salicornia species (“sea beans”) that fills the marshy areas next to the bay. Along with quinoa, spinach, beets, and chard, all of these species belong to the (former) goosefoot family – the Chenopodiaceae – which is now considered a branch nested within the Amaranth family. Quinoa is a central member of this old family, belonging in the namesake genus Chenopodium. Continue reading
On a hunt for a traditional Thanksgiving tuber, Katherine discovers what it takes to root your own sweet potatoes. Here she explains how sweet potatoes are put together, which anyone can observe in the kitchen.
The Sunday before Thanksgiving – the first Thanksgiving in 19 years that I have not spent with my family in Georgia – I was on a hunt for sweet potatoes. Not a single one of my favorite vendors at the Mountain View farmers market grew them this year. Finally, I questioned Luis Miranda of Wholeness Farms, who has always given me clear and patient explanations of many aspects of farming. In his charming Nicaraguan accent, he simply said that sweet potatoes are a “long crop.”
Sweet potatoes of all kinds – orange, white, or purple, garnets, Beauregards, Georgia jets, and white stars – are members of the species Ipomoea batatas, in the morning glory family, Convolvulaceae. Continue reading
Chili, black pepper, white pepper, and Sichuan pepper
Black pepper, pink peppercorns, chili pepper, Sichuan pepper – except for being “hot,” these spices have as little in common as Sergeant Pepper and Pepper Potts. Their homelands are scattered across the world, and they were spread through distinct trade routes. They are not closely related; they belong to families about as far apart as possible on the phylogenetic tree below. They even aim their heat at different sensory receptors in your mouth. Continue reading
Posted in Flavor, Fruit, Recipes, Uncategorized
Tagged Anacardiaceae, angiosperm, basal angiosperm, black pepper, capsaicin, capsicum, chili, chili pepper, convergence, eudicot, flavor, hot, hot sauce, Katherine Preston, magnoliid, pepper, phylogenetic relationships, piper, Piperaceae, Piperales, piperine, pungency, recipe, Rutaceae, Sapindales, Sichuan pepper, Solanaceae, Solanales, spice, spices, toxins, white pepper