As we bid farewell to summer’s bounty and the fruits and veggies showcased in thousands of farmers markets in the United States, let’s take a moment to appreciate the quirks of our favorite edibles.
I’m going to blow your mind: Every banana you’ve ever eaten is the same banana, at least if you were born before the 1950s. As the sterile mules of the herbaceous world – yes, a banana is technically an herb – banana “trees” are all offshoots of one another, and, therefore, are all genetically identical.
The current variety? Cavendish. Before the 1950s, when a fungus all but wiped out the banana? Gros Michel.
So, literally, this is not your grandmother’s banana.
Who said being an explorer isn’t glamorous? They carried watermelon-infused water! It’s true: Early explorers used watermelon as canteens. Seems like they were just a waffle cotton robe away from a pedicure!
Maybe these explorers were taking notes from ancient Egyptians. It is a well-known Egyptian belief that the dead should be buried with items they may need in the afterlife: internal organs, gold and watermelon, apparently. Depicted in hieroglyphics, watermelon were placed in the burial tombs of kings for them to nourish them with juicy goodness for all eternity.
It took a ruling by the Supreme Court in 1893 to settle the “Are tomatoes a fruit or a vegetable?” debate. Despite botanical evidence to the contrary, call it a vegetable or we’ll throw the book, or at least a tomato, at you.
Another quirk of this viney wonder: It has a crash cart in its greenery. Well, not quite, but you should avoid eating the stems and leaves of these, let’s say it together, “vegetables” since they contain atropine, a substance used to treat some heart dysrhythmias, among other ailments. Even raw green tomatoes contain some of the substance. That’s right, you and Kathy Bates are free to gobble up bushels of fried green tomatoes during your next trip to the south. Yum!
Even if the Dead Sea Scrolls speak of cherry seeds’ satanic powers, those with sleep problems might sell their soul to the devil for a handful of tart cherries. These sinfully delicious bulbs are one of the rare foods sources to contain melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycles.
According to traditional folk healers, however, cherries have a far less controversial role as a treatment for gout and arthritis. This ability comes from cyanidin, the pigment giving red and blue edibles their color with anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Concentrate on those colorful cherry skins for the greatest concentration of those powerful little chemicals.
Asking why carrots are orange is like asking why the sky is blue, or is it?
Long before we ever thought to dip the crunchy wonders in a gob of ranch dressing, carrots naturally and popularly existed in a variety of colors from white, to red, to purple and beyond. The fact that the vast majority of carrots we now see are orange is due to a Dutch botanist who hybridized the carrot to create a tasty orange variety in tribute to William of Orange, who led the struggle for Dutch independence from Spain in the 16th century.
Who knew carrot-eating was a political statement.