cookbooks
9 Surprising Facts About Your Favorite Vegetables
Wow your friends at the next trivia night.
02-21-2019
America's Test Kitchen

When we claim that our new cookbook, Vegetables Illustrated, includes everything vegetables from A to Z, we mean it. While researching the 70 different types of vegetables featured in the book, we came across some trivia that any vegetable-loving home cook should know.

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1. What Determines the Size of an Artichoke: Artichokes are the immature flower buds of a perennial plant in the thistle family. The vegetables are commonly marketed in three sizes: small (2 to 4 ounces), medium (8 to 10 ounces), and large (12 ounces or more). Curiously, different-size artichokes simultaneously bud on the same plant; those that grow on the center stalk are the largest, and the smallest grow at the juncture between the plant’s leaves the stem.

2. How White Asparagus Stays White: White asparagus lacks color because it is grown without sunlight. It’s an artificially cultivated crop: The shoots are covered in soil as they grow, shielding them from the sunlight and preventing the photosynthesis that would turn them green from chlorophyll.

3. Why Beets Are So Sweet: Beets are one of the sweetest vegetables in existence. In terms of the amount of sugar per 100 grams, they are sweeter than several fruits! This hallmark sweetness is actually the result of the plant’s cold-weather defense mechanism. The natural sugars in beets act like antifreeze, lowering the freezing point of water in the plant and thus helping prevent that water from freezing and forming destructive ice crystals that would rupture the cell walls.

4. How to Take the Heat Off of Chiles: There are many folk remedies for cooling the fiery heat from eating chiles. The casein proteins found in dairy products like milk, yogurt, or sour cream really do help soothe your burning mouth. Capsaicin is also alcohol-soluble, so an ice-cold beer will also make you feel better. Starchy grains like rice and corn tortillas also work quite well. But one thing that definitely doesn’t work at all? Water.

5. Call Legumes By Their (Proper) Names: Though the terms “edamame” and “soybeans” are often used interchangeably, there is a slight difference: Soybeans are the mature beans, whereas edamame are the immature beans, harvested while they are still green and young.

6. Make Room for Mushrooms: In the United States, late-19th-century florists in Pennsylvania were the first to successfully cultivate mushrooms, using the dark spaces under their greenhouse shelves. Today, the United States leads the world in mushroom consumption.

7. Use a Flame to Tame Your Tears: After putting more than 20 methods to the test, we’ve found two ways that work best at reducing tears when cutting onions: protecting our eyes with goggles or contact lenses, or introducing a flame (a candle or gas burner) near the cut onions. The flame changes the activity of the volatile compound that forms when an onion is cut by completing its oxidization.

8. The Price of Sweet Peppers: All sweet peppers start out green. Green sweet peppers are less expensive than other colors because they are harvested sooner; this is also why they are less sweet than other colors, and have fewer vitamins overall.

9. The Many Names of Swiss Chard: Swiss chard definitely wins in the name department. Fordhook Giant is the classic white-stemmed, white-veined variety. The next most commonly seen type is called Ruby Red, or Rhubarb, chard. And the now frequently seen “rainbow chard” is a variety called Bright Lights.

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