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Looking like they come from unchartered alien planets, these weird vegetables from all over the world can open your mind and palate to new, exotic, and exciting flavors, textures, and culinary experiences.
They say travel broadens your horizons, and that sentiment rings true when it comes to food. Tropical climates, diverse geography, and ancient practices all play their role in bringing these mesmerizing vegetables, rife with vibrant colors and intricate exteriors, into cuisines from across the globe.
If you thought vegetables were boring, oh my, are you in for a treat! Gear up for a global adventure that is sure to raise a few eyebrows and drop some jaws as we run through 10 of the weirdest vegetables in the world, where to find them, and in which dishes you can try them.
Weird Vegetables You Need to Try
1 – Romanesco Broccoli
While broccoli may be on plenty of peoples’ ‘wince’ lists, even self-proclaimed broccoli-haters cannot deny there is a certain allure and charm about the unique and intricate composition of Romanesco broccoli.
Believed to have originated from Lazio, Italy, where the first records of this weird vegetable date back to the 16th century, this fascinating vegetable can be described as a halfway point between cauliflower and broccoli.
Its florets are crunchy, like cauliflower, yet a little more tender. Taste-wise, Romanesco broccoli has a sweeter, somewhat nuttier cauliflower taste, with an undertone of broccoli.
Where this unique-looking vegetable can really enhance dishes, however, is through cooking. When heated, its florets develop a sweetness, making this vegetable ideal for adding to curries and hot dishes, while in Italy you will find it in pasta and risotto dishes. It can also be baked or roasted, and it can be served as a side dish or as an appetizer.
2 – Nopales
To the heat of Mexico we travel next, and to a vegetable loaded with friendly antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, in contrast to its somewhat offputting appearance.
Nopales are a type of cacti known as prickly pears. This plentiful vegetable in Mexico has a mild, tart taste, and is texturally crispy on the outside, with each mouthful becoming more gelatine-like the more you chew.
Popular in Mexican cooking, it is its thick, paste-like texture that makes it ideal for use in stews, jams, marmalades, soups, and plenty of other condiments.
Nopales also add flavor to salads and sides, and they are the key ingredient in several Mexican cuisine staples, such as huevos con nopales, or eggs with nopal. If you visit Mexico, you won’t struggle for opportunities to try this fascinating vegetable.
3 – Fiddleheads
Ornate and alluring to lay eyes on, fiddleheads are far more than a decorative vegetable to enhance the looks of various dishes.
This interesting vegetable starts out life as the fronds, or divided leaves, of young ferns across Canada and other parts of the world, which are harvested while the fronds are still small to be used in cooking.
Fiddleheads taste like a fusion of several vegetables. They have a sweet, asparagus-like taste, blended with the fresh, grass-like taste of green beans, complete with nuttier, broccoli-esque undertones.
Known for their crunch, fiddleheads are used in various ways in American and Asian cuisines. Rich in antioxidants and omega-3 acids, fiddleheads are used in tarts, quiches, and salads, pair wonderfully with salmon, and can even be roasted or sauteed to eat on their own as a side dish.
4 – Purple Sweet Potato
Far lesser known than its white and orange siblings, the purple sweet potato’s vibrant violet color alone is more than enough to intrigue foodie travelers from all walks of life.
While texturally similar to traditional sweet potatoes, purple sweet potatoes are usually denser and starchier than traditional sweet potatoes. Their sweet taste is drier than their orange-flesh siblings, and their texture thick and creamy.
Due to their drier flesh, purple sweet potatoes are often cooked for longer to fully unlock their flavor.
In a similar vein to other sweet potatoes, the purple variety of potatoes are used in a wide range of dishes. Find it in salads, roasted with vegetables and meats, mash, pasta dishes, and many different desserts.
And of course, you can use this sweet, starchy vegetable to make rich and crispy purple sweet potato fries. Now there’s one for Instagram!
5 – Lotus Root
A nutritious and fiber-loaded root vegetable, lotus root is commonly found in Chinese, Japanese, and various other Asian cuisines.
Resembling a potato with its light brown, smooth, and marked skin, the lotus root’s true beauty is only revealed once you cut into the flesh, revealing a delicate, holed pattern with each and every slice.
Lotus root, texturally, is similar to celery, with a crispy exterior and plenty of crunch. Its taste is mild, slightly sweet, but also a little bitter.
While it can be eaten raw, you are far more likely to try lotus root in stir fry recipes, soups, and as an ingredient in soy sauce. When cooked, it has a tenderness similar to that of a potato.
6 – Bitter Melon
While its rippled, warty green skin may not look the most appetizing, bitter melon is widely used throughout Asia in many dishes and for its medicinal purposes to help fight diseases.
Bitter melon is aptly named. The longer it ripens, the bitter its taste becomes. It has a somewhat watery taste, similar to that of a cucumber, and it is crunchy when raw but softer when cooked.
Naturally, bitter melon divides opinion. Some find its taste when raw so bitter and unpleasant, and they cannot stomach it. But used in a range of Asian dishes, such as stir-fry recipes and Chinese salads, its abundant health benefits can be enjoyed.
7 – Taro
A beloved root vegetable, grown in tropical regions of Africa and Asia, taro’s rough, furry brown exterior, at first glance, does little to get the mouth salivating.
But cut beyond the skin, and you’re treated to a purple-speckled, milky flesh that is similar to the starchy taste of a potato but with sweeter, floral undertones.
Just like potatoes, taro is a very diverse vegetable. It provides a filling, wholesome foundation on which so many delicious foods and dishes are prepared.
Taro, rich in fiber, is used in plenty of savory dishes, from salads to casseroles. But you will also find it in ice cream, Chinese taro cake, and even Taiwanese taro bubble tea.
Its use as a nutritious, starchy, and sweet core ingredient seems to have limitless boundaries, although it does need to be prepared properly, as raw it is toxic to humans.
8 – Mashua
Originating from the rugged landscape of the Andes, mashua root has been an important crop in South American food for centuries. It was even used to fuel generations of Inca armies before war.
Once cooked, mashua root has an interesting flavor. It brings to the forefront a strong, spiced, somewhat peppery taste, in the same circles as a radish or turnip, with hints of deep sweetness, similar to licorice or marzipan. In fact, some have even dubbed it ‘marzipan root’ due to its flavor.
While mashua may divide opinion on its taste, there is no denying the integral role it has played in the foundations of South American cuisine.
Similarly to other root vegetables, it can be used in casseroles, stews, and meat dishes. Sliced thinly, it can dress salads, and boiled and mashed, it can be used in a similar way to potatoes.
9 – Kohlrabi
Also known as the German turnip, kohlrabi is a truly unique-looking vegetable, used predominantly in Central European cuisine and places all over the world with sizeable German populations.
Its swollen green, cylindrical bulb, complete with long, arching sprouts, make it look like some type of extraterrestrial being! Despite its odd looks, kohlrabi is closely related to cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli.
Taste-wise, kohlrabi has the crispness and crunch of the likes of celery, with a mild, peppery taste, laced with a sweet undertone. Imagine a cross between broccoli stem, radish, and a golden delicious apple, and you have a rough idea of this weird vegetable’s flavor profile.
Being a member of the cabbage family means kohlrabi can be used in a range of hearty meat and vegetable-based dishes. However, those looking to bring its flavor profile to the forefront can try it in many ways.
Roasted, it pairs beautifully with steak or fish, in a similar way to asparagus. You can also roast it and drizzle it with lemon juice for a hearty side dish, or use it to add a little sweetness and spice to salads, as you would radish.
10 – Cassava
Long, cylindrical, rough, and rugged in appearance, cassava may not be the most Instagrammable vegetable out there, but it plays an essential ingredient in cuisines throughout Latin America.
Poisonous when raw, cassava has to be cooked and prepared properly before being used in dishes of all styles and sizes.
Cassava is known for its subtle flavor, making it an excellent base ingredient in Latin American cooking. Once cooked, it has a mild earthy flavor, with nutty undertones. There is both sweetness and bitterness in cassava, albeit both subtle.
Cassava is loaded with carbohydrates, and it is somewhat to Latin American cuisines what the potato is to European cuisines.
The use of cassava in cooking is endless. It can be boiled, mashed, fried, or roasted, and used in meat and vegetable dishes, in tarts and quiches, and even in desserts, such as cassava cake.
It is a simple but incredibly diverse vegetable, and it is one you won’t struggle to find in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.
Weird Vegetables Summary
Were those vegetables weird enough for you? Because I feel like we’ve landed on an alien planet and gone foraging in the nearby woods and forests!
And while we can ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at the aesthetics of many of these vegetables, all of them bring flavors and textures to a vast array of native dishes that many of us simply cannot fathom without trying.
This is why I love world cuisines. Trying new dishes, foods, and combinations that broaden your palate and expand your mind.
So whether your next adventure takes you to the heat of Mexico or the tropics of Southeast Asia, keep your eyes peeled for these weird vegetables, and be sure to try them either from food markets or in delicious native dishes. When it comes to food, there’s always more to learn, try, and enjoy.
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Author: Dale Johnson is a content writer and creator who has traveled to 30 countries and counting. A passionate foodie, he loves to try new and flavorsome dishes and local cuisine no matter where his travels take him.