This week on Table Talk, we are lightening things up a little and doing a 3-piece series ‘Funny Foods: Produce Grown in Unique and Unusual Ways’.
As food producers, we are deeply in tune with our own production system and what we grow, but we always have more to learn and absorb. Take this journey with us as we discover many foods that have interesting and unexpected propagation stories.
We hope you enjoy our series:
Cashews are our all time favourite interesting food story by a country mile! As I noted in an article originally written for Food Tank:
The cashew nut—native to Brazil and now grown extensively in Africa, India, and Vietnam—is a readily available kidney-shaped nut popular with eaters all over the world. But, not as well understood, is that a single cashew actually grows out the bottom of a cashew apple, which is about three times the size of the nut.
Unlike other nuts, the cashew—which is actually a seed—cannot be bought in a shell, because the cashew’s shell is toxic. Due to this toxicity in the lining of the shell, many Latin Americans and West Indians ate the cashew apple and threw the nut away.
Did you know that chocolate comes from the cacao tree, or more specifically, from the seeds of the fruit of the cacao tree?
Each tree produces about 40 pods per year, in which there are approximately 40 beans. The seeds have to be roasted and fermented before chocolate is produced and the cacao tree’s name Theobroma cacao is derived from the Greek ‘theos’ and ‘broma’, god and food respectively coming together as ‘food of the gods’. We wholeheartedly agree!
Cinnamon is pretty popular in our household and its propagation journey is another cracker! We found rather than coming from grinding a seed like many herbs and spices in our pantry, it is in fact harvested from the bark of a tree.
As noted by Ba-ba, it is quite a laborious process:
After the tree has been growing for two years, the cultivators need to coppice it (cutting the stems at ground level) and process it immediately. This process requires cutting off the outer bark and scraping off the inner bark.
This inner bark, upon drying, will turn into the cinnamon flakes we find available for sale.
Almonds in a tree. Pistachios in a tree. So, what about peanuts? Well, no easy answers here as they are actually grown underground and are not nuts, but legumes!
We first learnt about the origin of the pinenut when researching an article for Food Tank and although the answer is self-explanatory in retrospect, it was news to our ears!
Often used as a festive decoration or ornament, the pine cone actually has another important function—the growing place of the pine nut. There are approximately 50 seeds in each pine cone hidden in the overlapping scales. But don’t wait too late; if the pine cone is open, the nuts have most likely already been eaten by animals!
Do you use saffron in your cooking? Did you know that the Saffron Crocus plant produces this pretty flower below from which the saffron we use is extracted? Ba.ba notes that “Each flower contains a bright crimson stigma that is collected by cultivators to obtain saffron. In order to yield 1 gram of this spice, around 150 flowers are needed. ”
Grown in areas where other crops may struggle, sesame seeds grow on the flowering plant sesamum and is one of the oldest oilseed crops in the world. The sesame seeds are the plants flowers and are encased in 2-9cm capsules.
Ever wondered if there is a relationship between sesame seeds and ‘Open Sesame’ or ‘Sesame Street’? Well, thanks to Find Dining Lovers we found:
The magic formula “Open sesame!” is from the book One Thousand and One Nights, and specifically from the tale of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves”. It refers to the actual sesame fruit, because when the fruit is mature many aromatic seeds come out of it. The exotic formula also relates to Sesame Street, the popular American TV edutainment program with the Muppets.
We had no clue that vanilla is in fact the edible fruit of an orchid before researching this article! The flowers of the plant needs to be pollinated and the plant grows pods (15-23cm long) from which the vanilla extract is taken.
Why is vanilla so expensive? As noted by Australian Popular Science:
Although vanilla is now grown in many regions around the world—most notably Madagascar—the bee that can naturally pollinate vanilla is only found in Mexico and Central America. Everywhere else in the world that vanilla grows, it must be hand pollinated which is one reason why vanilla is so expensive.
Sashimi, ginger and wasabi – was there ever a more perfect union? The unique flavour and heat of wasabi comes from a member of the brassica family that is famously difficult to cultivate. Mother Nature Network informs that wasabi grows in cool, shady mountain stream beds mainly in Japan. It grows submerged, and while the portion of the plant that grows underwater looks like a root, it’s not. It’s actually the stem. It thrives between 46 and 70 degrees but can’t tolerate direct sunlight.
It’s so hard to grow wasabi that supply has become scarce as demand has increased, and wasabi has become quite expensive. Because of the scarcity, most of the wasabi pastes and powders you find at the supermarket contain barely any real wasabi, if they have any at all.
We hope you’re enjoying this Funny Foods journey with us: