8 foods that grow in a surprising way

There are many things that we eat and drink regularly, but have no idea where they come from or how they grow… Until now, that is! Let us open your mind, and possibly your mouth, with some common (yet somehow surprisingly strange) foods from around the world!

Pineapples

Indigenous to South America

A ripe pineapple

It grows on a stick! Well not really a stick – it’s a stem. I had assumed that it grew from a flower, like an apple, and I suppose it does in a way. The pineapple doesn’t hang from a branch however; it grows from the centre of a bromeliad plant, which is a spikey, tropical-looking thing. The plant produces hundreds of little flowers which bear fruit, then these fruits join together to create a pineapple. How very strange!

A pineapple in its starting stage

Photo credit: Rameshng (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Wasabi

Indigenous to Japan

A Wasabia japonica plant

Photo credit: Ies

Wasabi is used to add flavour (a hot flavour) to many foods, particularly in Japanese cuisine. A popular snack these days, however, seems to be wasabi peas. These harmless looking little things assault your mouth and nose with their fiery horseradish-ish punch (hence wasabi is also known as the Japanese horseradish). It seems quite incongruous, then, to think that wasabi actually grows underwater!

Wasabia japonica plants in gravel beds

The Wasabia japonica plant is grown in gravel beds flooded with spring water. This sensitive plant is quite intolerant to sunlight, so must also be kept in the shade. The most commonly used part of the plant is the bit that has been underwater, the stem (although it looks like a root) – this is where the most intense flavour is held.

Cranberries

Indigenous to North America

A flooded cranberry bed

You may have a rough idea of how your vodka mixer is grown from a certain advert on TV. I must admit, I thought that the lake of cranberries in the advert had more to do with artistic licence than the genuine harvesting process. But they really are harvested in water! They grow along vines on the ground and used to be harvested by hand, which was backbreaking stuff and took a long time.

A cranberry bush partially submerged in water

It was then discovered, due to a tiny pocket of air, that cranberries float in water! So when the berries reach optimum size and colour, during the autumn, the bogs they are growing in are flooded. The next morning the water is churned up so the berries come off the vine and bob to the top! They are then gathered up and shipped off to be pressed into juice.

Rice

Indigenous to southern India

Rice terraces

Rice is one of the most important grains in the world. It has been said it is a staple food for almost half of the world’s population. It has particular importance in Asia and the West Indies. Although rice is grown all over the world now, it is thought to have first been grown and cultivated in southern India well over 5,000 years ago, before it started to spread out around the globe. Considering how prevalent it is, it’s surprising how little we know about how it’s grown! It is in fact the seed of a grass-like plant that needs plenty of water to survive. However it is not necessary to grow it in water.

A semi-ripe rice plant (paddy)

Photo credit: Amartyabag (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Growing rice in water reduces the growth of weeds and discourages vermin from attacking the crop, so that is why you see submerged paddy fields. Once it is harvested, the hulls are thrashed to loosen the rice. Then it’s warmed and the outer husk removed. When the rice comes out, it is covered in bran. If the bran is left on, it becomes what we call brown rice. To create white rice, the bran is removed by abrasive milling. Such a lot of trouble for such tiny grains!

Coffee

Indigenous to Ethiopia

Coffee cherries

Arguably the most popular beverage in the world, coffee comes from two different kinds of plant, known as arabica and robusta. Arabica plants are more difficult to grow and are said to produce the superior cup of coffee. The arabica plant must be cultivated for at least five years before its cherries can be harvested. Inside each coffee cherry are two beans (although they are actually classified as seeds). It takes around 3,000 beans to make just one pound of coffee!

Roasted coffee seeds (beans)

Once the cherry and the outer section of the bean are removed, it is left to dry out. It’s after this stage that the coffee is usually exported, and up until the point of roasting, the beans are still green. Once they’re roasted, they can be ground and turned into the drink we know and love!

Black pepper

Indigenous to… possibly India!

Pepper before ripening

Photo credit: Aruna (CC BY-SA 3.0)

It sits on your table or in your cupboard, and there are not many savoury dishes it isn’t included in, but do you know how it grows? And what the difference is between black pepper, white pepper and green pepper? Well you are about to find out! Piper nigrum is a flowering vine that bears fruit.

Black, green, pink and white peppercorns

Photo credit: Ragesoss (CC BY-SA 3.0)

These little berries, when picked before ripening, become black peppercorns. But before then, they are dried and cooked. When the unripe berries are dried, not cooked, they become green pepper. White pepper is made from the seed inside the little berry. And pink peppercorns? They come from an entirely different plant – the Peruvian pepper tree.

Peanuts

Indigenous to Peru

Peanut pollinated fruit stalks

Photo credit: Llez (CC BY-SA 3.0)

So be honest – how did you think peanuts grew? I thought they came off of a shrubby plant, a bit like peapods. I shan’t be embarrassed though, because after doing a quick poll, no one else knew the answer either! Something else I didn’t know was that peanuts aren’t even nuts; they’re legumes! Peanuts actually grow in a very strange way.

A woman collecting peanuts

Once the pretty yellow flowers of the plant are pollinated (by bees, usually), their petals drop off and the stems starts to grow and bend down towards the ground where they dig into the soil. Once it’s under the soil, it swells into the pod, which contains the peanuts. Amazing!

Cashews

Indigenous to South America

Cashews growing on the tree

And you thought peanuts were odd! Cashew nuts grow off the end of apples. The flower of the cashew tree forms into a pear/apple-shaped fruit, but this is known as a false fruit! The true fruit is the kidney shaped nubbin at the end of the apple. Within that, lies the cashew nut (which is actually a seed). The seed is surrounded by a double shell, which is very toxic. Proper roasting will destroy the toxin, but it must be done outside because even the smoke produced is dangerous!

A cashew tree

Photo credit: L. Shyamal (CC BY 2.5)

It’s also possible to eat the cashew apple. It’s very sweet and juicy and sometimes made into a drink. Sadly, it has very thin skin so transporting it anywhere causes damage. Because of this, it’s unlikely we’ll find a cashew apple in the supermarket anytime soon.

Places mentioned in this post

, , , , , , ,
  • Praveen

    The first picture given under Pepper is not that of pepper. It is something else. Check this link for the correct picture:

    http://www.thehindu.com/multimedia/dynamic/00879/TH31_PEPPER_879222f.jpg

    Regards

    Praveen

    • http://blog.insureandgo.com InsureandGo

      Whoops – well spotted! Thanks for letting us know, Praveen. We’re replacing it now.

  • Joy Davies

    I’ve was in south east Asia in February, and saw paddy fields, cashews, coffee beans, pineapples and peanuts growing there. The peanuts I remember in particular, as we took a 2-day trip along the Mekong and were intrigued by the neat rows of something low-growing cultivated on the sandy river banks. Our guide told us they were peanuts, an important source of protein for the villagers. I had heard years ago that they were a root vegetable, but had never seen them growing any before. Wonderful trip.

    • Sue

      I also did the two day trip along Mekong which was brilliant. I was fascinated to see the peanuts growing in the sand along the banks. I’ve got very sandy soil at home so I’m wondering whether to try peanuts myself.

  • http://www.arabiancoffees.co.uk ArabianCoffees

    In addition to the bit about coffee, I would add:

    A) coffee generally only grows best in what’s known as the coffee belt – an area between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.

    B) whether beans grow in the shade or direct sun, greatly affects the acidity of the harvested coffee bean.

    Interesting blog though, Shukran! (thanks!)

  • Artem

    Cranberries are not indigenous to North America. I grew up on the North Pacific coast of Siberia (the north of Far East) where they are wide spread and grow in wild. They also grow all the way west, along the North of the whole of Siberia and Europe including Scandinavia. Get your facts right and do not base them on TV commercials for alcohol.

    • corrector

      I’m sorry Artem, but a quick google search brings up multiple sources stating at least one variety of cranberry is indigenous to N.America.

      http://tinyurl.com/dxxcc4d take your pick of sites, there’s even a cranberry institute site.

  • jude

    thanks for these information bites, very interesting and enjoyable, no need for anyone to get stroppy about minor errors though! chill

  • Helen

    You guys in the marketing department must have such fun!! keep them coming.

  • Carol

    I was intrigues why insureandgo would want to show this sort of information so came on to read well i am glad i did. I found it very interesting, i am one that didnt know about the peanuts and now i do. Thank you
    Caz

  • Keith

    I remember so well some 60 years ago that we learned in primary school that “ground” nuts grew in the tropics. We also now know them to be p-nuts. The answer was in the name.

  • John

    Very interesting – many thanks for doing it and please do some more (when you have time!)

  • Caz

    According to the book Guns, Germs and Steel rice is not indigenous to India but first grew in the Fertile Crescent in SW Asia and also in China. The foods found (so far) to be indigenous to India are sesame and eggplant.

  • Caz

    Black pepper indigenous to India

  • Harry

    Really enjoyed reading your email, thanks. We lived in Singapore for three years in the 70s and the weirdest fruit we ever saw was the durian. It smells absolutely revolting but it is highly sought after in Asia. Never see them in Waitrose though.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durian

    • aly

      Great read thank you. Excellent for reading in the works canteen when I am alone trying to pretend I have real friends. :-)

      • http://blog.insureandgo.com/contributors/dom-stapleton/ Dom Stapleton

        Thanks for your comment, aly! Don’t worry – we’ll be your friends from now on :)