Some of the most popular and common foods worldwide have interesting and unexpected backstories, growing in places and forms quite unimagined. From the cashew nut, which is actually a single seed of an apple, to proteins raised in petri-dishes, take a journey with Food Tank to discover ten foods that grow in peculiar ways. Prepare to be amazed!
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.
Many of the spices used in everyday cooking come from grounding up of the seed, such as cumin, fennel, and cardamom. However, cinnamon—a popular spice used in baking, curries, and desserts—does not come from a seed, but from stripping back the bark of a cinnamon tree. When grown outdoors in tropical regions such as Sri Lanka, the tree can grow up to 20 to 30 feet and the cinnamon bark is harvested from trees that are over two years of age. The outer bark is scraped off and the rolls of the barks dry to form the cinnamon sticks used in cooking.
Continuing the run of unexpectedly grown foods beginning with ‘C’ is the cranberry. Rather than growing on a tree or on a bush, this North-American native fruit is most often grown in bogs. Produced primarily in the United States, Canada, and Chile, the beds of the bogs, which consist of layers of sand, peat, gravel, and clay, are an ideal growing spot for the fruit. The cranberry vines spread over the floor of the bog, and the cranberries float in the water, which make harvesting easier. When you see farmers wading in the field of floating cranberries, it is harvest time!
The lesser known, Jacuticaba (or Myrciaria Cauliflora), is a Brazilian fruit that grows on the side of a tree in an unexpected way. The small black fruit looks like a grape, but unlike a grape, they do not have a stem. Rather, the fruit grows all over the tree, straight from the trunks, making the tree look like it has been infested with bugs, or by a strange, spotty disease that is suffocating the tree. It remains contested whether or not the jabuticabo exists outside of Brazil, with reports that there are trees in other parts of South America, as well as in California. Either way, check out the jacuticaba!
Mushrooms are known for growing in strange places: Morel Mushrooms, which people scour for in forests, railway tracks, or fencerows across North America; to the Lion’s Mane (or Bearded Tooth) Mushroom, which falls from trees like a man’s beard. In France, the La Cave Des Roches (Mushroom Caves) are a network of 75 miles of caves and tunnels used for growing mushrooms. The humid air and constant temperature of 53 degrees Fahrenheit in the cave is perfect for mushroom cultivation.
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!
Perhaps not an appealing thought, but the world’s first lab-produced hamburger—at a cost of $US300,000—has been grown in a petri dish. Maastricht University’s Mark Post, who used muscle cow cells to manufacture the meat, sees test-tube meat as a solution against the environmental and ethical issues involved in meat production. New Harvest, a non-profit committed to the development of meat substitutes, are also growing meat in a lab—without the use of animals—as part of their vision to render factory farming obsolete.
There exist a number of vegetables that can be grown from the scraps of food already used, right on a windowsill at home! The list includes scallions, romaine lettuce, lemongrass, celery, onions, and bok choy—all of which can be regrown from the discarded roots, or head, of the vegetable. Try celery at home: just chop the celery stalks from the base, place the base in a bowl of warm water in a sunny place. After a week, new leaves will have grown and thickened, and the new base can be replanted to grow into a celery plant right in your home. You can even try growing a pineapple from the discarded top, but patience is key, as the process can take up to two years to bear fruit!
Wild rice is actually not rice, but a semi-aquatic grass, which is traditionally grown in shallow water along edges of rivers, streams, and lakes. Rooted in the sediment and mud, the grass (which grows up to nine foot tall) has ribbon-like leaves. The leaves initially grow underwater, but the third set of leaves grows above the water level. The seeds on these leaves mature, turn brown, and fall off into the water. If not eaten by a passing duck, or harvested, some seeds survive to root themselves in the mud and grow into a new plant in the following season!
The witchetty grub may not be at the top of a food most-wanted list—and may create a shudder at the thought of eating one—but this Australian bush food, popular among the indigenous population, is certainly grown in an unexpected place. The plump and nutrition-filled insect, which is the larvae of a Giant Wood Moth, is either found buried inside the timber of tree or up to half a meter below the ground inside the roots. Don’t forgo eating one if offered: the taste of the witchetty grub has been likened to scrambled eggs or fried egg with a hint of almond!