In my hope and eager anticipation of blue skies, sun-warmed sidewalks, farmers markets, and fresh Michigan produce in a few short months, I present eleven things you maybe didn’t know about vegetables (with some help from the internet):
1. The eggplant is named after the small, white, egg-shaped variety of the vegetable, which first made its way to Europe from Southeast Asia in the mid-1700s. Eggplant goes by aubergine (after its deep purple color) in the UK, and brinjal in Africa and Asia.
2. Before kale became a super trendy health food (c. 2013), Pizza Hut was the #1 purchaser of the leafy green—it was used as garnish fill-in on their salad bar.
3. Have you ever sliced into a bell pepper and come across a tiny, misshapen, baby bell pepper? It’s called a “carpelloid structure,” and it’s edible. (Bonus!) Carpelloid structures are miniature sterile vegetables—a pepper ovule (an unfertilized pre-seed) likely mutated and instead of turning into a round little seed, it grew into a tiny seedless pepper.
4. Your pee smells after eating asparagus because the vegetable contains asparagusic acid, which, when digested and broken down, results in a number of sulfurous compounds that give off that distinct rotten-egg aroma once expelled. Everyone’s pee smells after eating asparagus, but around thirty percent of us can’t perceive the scent—likely the result of a genetic mutation in the olfactory sensors.
5. Speaking of pee, a special ten to fourteen percent of the population may experience beeturia, or the passing of pinkish urine after eating beets, which contain anthocyanin and betalain—antioxidant pigments that give beets their vibrant pink color. If your urine is especially red post-beets, it may be a sign of low stomach acid (you’re probably fine, though).
6. Zucchini serves as a great apple substitute in any baked item. Try apple pie: a bit of lemon juice and a touch more sugar to peeled and sliced zucchini is an easy way to use August’s overgrown squash.
7. In his book, The Supper of the Lamb, Robert F. Capon invites his reader to “spend an hour in the society of an onion”—the seemingly common vegetable that he asserts stands as a “paradigm for life.” Capon guides his reader through a glorious exercise on paying attention—to consider, touch, slice, dissect, and cook. We learn—amongst a smattering of metaphysical revelations—that an onion, once sliced in half, cannot fit back together: “The faces which began as two plane surfaces…are now mutually convex, and rock against each other.” (Try it!)
8. China-based maker/supplier Fruit Mould “specializes in providing the best fruit and vegetable molds to help reshape the fruits growing in your garden.” You can purchase a mold in the shape of Donald Trump’s face if you’d like to grow a Trump pumpkin. Fruit Mould shares that “reshaping will not diminish the quality or lower the nutritional value” of the fruit or vegetable.
9. It’s Brussels sprouts with a capital B, because the vegetable—a member of the cabbage family—was originally cultivated near Brussels, Belgium, in the mid-1200s. Sprouts make their first cookbook appearance in 1845: prepared in the “Belgian mode”—they’re boiled and drenched in butter.
10. Eggplant, bell pepper, zucchini, and pumpkin are all fruits, as are tomato, avocado, and cucumber. Technically, a fruit is the seed-bearing structure of a flowering plant, while vegetables are the other edible plant structures. We often label fruits as vegetables—but this is solely a culinary distinction.
11. Corn is a grass, and lettuce belongs to the daisy family.
There are seventeen weeks until summer—take the time to thank a local grower, and spend some quality time with an onion. Warm weather will be here soon.