by Janet Spencer

Come along with Tidbits as we eat our veggies!


About 43 million people across the U.S. maintain vegetable gardens. The top veggie grown is tomatoes, followed by cucumber, pepper, beans, carrots, squash, and onions.   

• The average American eats 92 lbs (42 kg) of vegetables each year.

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• A fruit is the fertilized ovary of a flower: tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, cukes, beans, peas, peppers, and corn are fruits. A vegetable is any part of a plant that is edible that is not a fruit: flowers (cauliflower, broccoli); stems (asparagus); tubers (potatoes); bulbs (onions); and roots (carrots). Herbs are plants with leaves, seeds, or flowers used for flavoring, medicine, or perfume, but not used as a main ingredient.

• An asparagus bed will yield asparagus for 20 to 30 years. Male asparagus is bigger, tastier, and up to four times more productive than female asparagus.    Asparagus also comes in white and purple varieties.    White asparagus is green asparagus which is buried and not exposed to light. Asparagus contains asparagusic acid, which is transformed in the digestive tract to compounds rich in sulfurous compounds including methanethiol which is the same chemical odorant found in skunk spray.

“Beet” comes from the Greek letter “beta” because it looks like the Greek letter B.

• Beets are red because of pigments called betalains, which also cause the red color of cactus flowers, rhubarb, and chard. Some people cannot metabolize betalains, which is expelled through the urine, turning it pink.

• Carrots contain pigments called carotenoids, including beta carotene. Not only do these pigment give carrots their orange color, but they also act as the precursors to vitamin A. In the digestive tract, enzymes snip carotenoids in half, and the result is two molecules of vitamin A.    A lack of vitamin A results in night blindness, and a prolonged deficiency can result in permanent blindness.

• Beta carotene is often added to things to improve the coloring. When added to milk, it makes it look creamier. Margarine is often colored with beta carotene as well. If you eat too many carrots over a short period of time, the beta carotene can turn your skin orangish.

• Americans eat about 12 lbs (5.4 kg) of carrots per year per person.

• Celery gets its name from the Latin “celer” meaning swift and quick, as in “celerity” and “acceleration.” It was thought to have fast-acting medicinal value.

• An average stalk of celery has 10 calories, but the commonly held belief that it takes more calories to digest it is not in fact true.

• About half of all corn produced in the U.S. is used as livestock feed. Another 15% is exported, and around 25% is used to make ethanol. Only 1% is eaten as regular corn by humans.    The rest is made into corn syrup, cornstarch, corn oil, and cornmeal. Corn originally meant “kernel” as in “peppercorn” and “corned beef.” In England corn referred to wheat, in Scotland it meant oats, and in the Bible it probably referred to barley.

Corn provides 20% of world’s total food energy.    If humans disappeared, corn would too. Today’s highly modified corn cobs are so densely packed that the seeds cannot disperse enough on their own to allow enough kernels to sprout, grow, and thrive.

• As a corn kernel dries out, the soft starch begins to shrink as it dehydrates, forming a dimple. This dried seed corn is known as “dent corn.”

• Individual grains of corn pollen can travel half a mile in less than a minute.

• It was thought that sleeping on a bed of cucumbers would ease a fever resulting in the phrase “cool as a cucumber.”

• Samuel Johnson stated that, “A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out.” Food historian Waverley Root says of cucumbers that they are “as close to neutrality as a vegetable can get without ceasing to exist.”

• More than half of the cucumbers grown in the U.S. are used for pickles.

• Americans consume 9 lbs (4 kg) of pickles each year per capita.

•. Lettuce has about 8 calories per cup.

• California produces 70% of America’s lettuce.

• “Romaine” lettuce comes from “Roman” since it’s thought to have originated in Italy.

• The more sunlight a lettuce leaf receives, the darker green it becomes, and the greater amount of beta-carotene it contains. Inner leaves remain pale and are therefore less nutritious.

• Americans eat about 30 lbs (14 kg) of lettuce per year per person.

Only about 15% of watermelons sold in U.S. markets are seeded. In many countries, watermelon seeds are roasted and eaten.

• Once you pick a watermelon it will never get any sweeter than the moment it is separated from its vine.

• The red in watermelon comes from a carotenoid called lycopene, the same thing that makes tomatoes red and grapefruit pink. Ounce for ounce, watermelon contains 40% more lycopene than tomatoes.   

• Eating a cooked tomato yields higher amounts of lycopene than eating raw tomatoes because lycopene is hard to digest and absorb unless it’s been heated.

• The Latin word “radix” means “root” resulting in the word “radish.”    “Raphanus” is Greek meaning “appearing rapidly” and is where the genus name for radishes came from. Radishes can go from seed to crop in three to four weeks.    Horseradish and wasabi are in the radish family, and their tangy bite is caused from intermingling of enzymes when cell walls are broken by biting, chewing, or cutting. It’s meant to repel insects and animals.

• Scallions are named for the city of Ascalon, a port city in Palestine (now called Ashkelon) where they were cultivated widely.   

Hot peppers grown in cool climate are milder than hot peppers grown in warm climates. Generally, the deeper the color – orange, yellow, and red – the hotter the pepper. Peppers are generally a good source of vitamin C, with a typical bell pepper containing six times as much vitamin C as an orange, but the hotter the pepper, the less vitamin C it contains. No matter how hot the pepper is supposed to be, however, they will all be completely bland as infant peppers on the vine. The hotness doesn’t set in until the fruit is about a month old.