Cichorium intybus (Belgium endive, Chicory)Originates in Europe and western Asia. There are three main varieties: Wild chicory is a weed (including in southern Africa) and has medicinal properties, Belgium endive is eaten in a similar way to lettuce, and the roots of Coffee chicory are used as a coffee additive or substitute
Asparagus officinalis (Asparagus) Family: AsparagaceaeOriginates from Europe. Served as a delicacy in Greek and Roman times. Young shoots are cooked and eaten. The smell in one’s urine after eating asparagus is caused by excretion of the substance methyl mercaptan.
Vegetables from fruit
Cucumis sativus (Cucumber) Family: Cucurbitaceae Originates from a wild species growing in India that was domesticated more than 2000 years ago. Cucumbers today are mainly grown in hothouses. They are usually eaten sliced in salads or on sandwiches but are also blended up for cold sauces and soups. Less commonly, they are used in cooked dishes. Young cucumbers are pickled as gherkins (see true Gherkin).
Cucurbita moschata (Butternut) Family: Cucurbitaceae
Cucurbita moschata was domesticated from a wild species in the region from southern Mexico to northern and western South America. Archaeological remains dating to about 2000 BC have been found in Peru. There are varieities other than Butternut but the latter is the most commonly encountered in southern Africa. Butternut is cooked and eaten as a vegetable and is commonly made into a tasty soup.
Cucurbita maxima (Hubbard Squash, Winter squash) Family: Cucurbitaceae Cucurbita maxima originates from temperate South America where it was domesticated from Cucurbita andreana which is indigenous to Argentina and Uruguay. The earliest archaeological remains are from 1800 BC in Peru. There are a wide variety of cultivars with Hubbard being the most commonly encountered in southern Africa. Varieties of Cucurbita maxima can be distinguished from those of Cucurbita pepo by soft rounded stems, not angular and bristly. Fruit have high levels of minerals and Vitamin A.
Olea europaea (Olive) Family: Oleaceae Olives stones have been found in archaeological sites dating as far back as 9000 BC, although only from about 3500 BC is there clear evidence of domestication (in the Mediterranean region). In order to make olives palatable, they need to be soaked in alkali liquid to extract a bitter glucoside they contain.
Persea americana (Avocado) Family: Lauraceae
Indigenous to Central and South America. It was being eaten by people more than 9000 years ago but was domesticated only about 2500 years ago. The name 'Avocado' and comes from the Aztec name meaning 'testicle tree'. It is a nutritious fruit with high levels of mainly unsaturated oils, minerals, vitamins and reasonable levels of protein.
Solanum melongena (Aubergine / Egg plant / Brinjal) Family: Solaneae
Origin India. Introduced into Spain and northern Africa by arab traders in the Middle Ages, by the 15th century was established in Italy and in France by the 18th century. Uses Cooked as a vegetable, e.g. in ratatouille. Has a very spongy texture so that when you fry it, it soaks up vast quantities of oil. However, once the heat reaches a certain level, the spongy structure collapses and much of the oil is removed.
Vegetables from bulbs
Allium sativum (Garlic) Family: Alliaceae
Garlic is grown as a vegetable and is also used for medicinal purposes because of its natural antibacterial and antifungal properties. Allium sativum is a domesticated species, thought to have originated from Allium longicuspis which is native to Central Asia. Evidence from Egyption tombs shows that domestication of garlic goes back to at least 3200 BC.
Vegetable from roots or tubers
Daucus carota (Carrot) Family: Apiaceae
Vegetable, eaten raw or cooked. Rich in carotene which is the precursor of vitamin A. First domesticated in Afghanistan. Early varieties had anthocyanin pigments in them giving the carrot a red, purple or black colour. A yellow variety without anthocyanin arose in the 16th century and became popular. In the 17th century in Holland the familiar orange variety rich in carotene was produced.
Helianthus tuberosus (Jerusalem artichoke) Family: Asteraceae
The tuber is eaten cooked in casseroles and sauces or eaten raw in salads. Originates from North America. Introduced to Europe in the 17th century.
Ipomoea batatas (Sweet potato) Family: Convolvulaceae Sweet potatoes fall within the same genus as Morning Glory and originate from Central and South America where they were already being cultivated by 2500 BC
Manihot esculenta (Cassava) Family: Euphorbiaceae Originates from Central America. Tapioca is manufactured from the starchy tuber. It can also be used to produce an alcoholic drink and to make flour. The leaves can be eaten as a vegetable.
Raphanus sativus (Radish) Family: Brassicaceae Early cultivars of Radish were elongate and black rather than round and red. Radish is thought to have been domesticated in the eastern Mediterranean, prior to 2780 BC. Radish is normally eaten raw in salads, but in Asia it is also cooked and a special variety has been developed with long seed pods that are eaten.
Anacardium occidentale (Cashew Nut) Family: Anacardiaceae Cashew trees are indigenous to Brazil and were distributed round the world by Portuguese explorers in the 1500's. They are grown extensively in Mozambique and also in Maputoland (northern KwaZulu-Natal). Cashew nuts should not be eaten raw because they are surrounded by a very acrid, irritant oil - this oil is burnt off in the roasting process. Besides being very tasty, cashews are a good source of protein (about 17% by weight).
Arachis hypogaea (Peanut) Family: Fabaceae Groundnuts were domesticated by indigenous people in the region of Argentina and Bolivia over 4000 years ago. The seedpods mature underground, hence the name groundnuts. Peanuts are nutritious in that they contain 45-50% oil and 25-30% protein as well as having certain vitamins. However, peanuts infested with fungal aflatoxin and eaten in large quantities can cause liver cancer in people.
Juglans regia (Walnut) Family: Juglandaceae
Native to the region in Eurasia extending from the Near East through to the Himalayas and on to Western China. Walnuts must have been harvested from earliest times but the earliest records of actual growing of orchards of walnut trees go back to classical Greek and Roman times. Besides the nuts, trees are also a source of high quality wood used for furniture and gunstocks. Growing of walnuts in Europe began in the 1500's. They are now grown worldwide and the largest production is from California. Walnuts are an excellent source of zinc, copper, phosphorus and thiamine and a good source of iron and potassium. Uses Walnuts can be eaten raw or roasted. They are used as an ingredient in salads, baking and cooking.
Prunus dulcis (Almond) Family: Rosaceae Almonds are believed to have been domesticated about 5000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean region. Domestication involved hybridisation among a number of species and/or varieties and included selecting for plants with almonds that were not bitter. Bitter almonds contain a cyanide compound - eaten in small numbers your body is able to metabolize the compound rendering it harmless but if you eat them in large numbers you can get sick or die. Almonds are an excellent source of calcium, iron, riboflavin and Vitamin E. Calcium levels are higher than in any other nut. Almonds are eaten as a snack and used in many recipes.
Pinus pinea (Stone pine) Family: Pinaceae Originates from the Mediterranean region of Europe and grown in South Africa, mainly as a suburban tree. The cones produce large edible nuts, which in the Western Cape are referred to as dennepitjies or simply pitjies. Children collect them, crack them open and eat the soft white kernel. Pine nuts are also used in Middle Eastern cooking.
Sclerocarya birrea (Marula) Family: Anacardiaceae Indigenous to subtropical regions of Africa. Produces rounded, yellow fruit about 30 mm in diameter, containing a tasty, nutritious pulp as well as a pip with three oblong nuts that can be cracked open and eaten. The nuts also contain an oil that is used for various purposes including cooking, as a moisturiser, and as a baby oil. Marula is being commercially grown, mainly for the pulp, but not yet on a large scale.
Fruits and berries
Citrullus lanatus (Watermelon) Family: Cucurbitaceae The Watermelon is thought to have been domesticated in Africa at least 4000 years ago and is now grown worldwide, particularly in regions with long, hot summers.
Cucumis melo (Muskmelon, including winter melon and spanspek) Family: Cucurbitaceae The wild Muskmelon has an indigenous distribution over the desert and savanna regions of Africa, Arabia, southwestern Asia and Australia, including in southern Africa, and was domesticated in Africa and southwestern Asia more than 4000 years ago. It now comes in a range of forms including those with netted rinds (e.g. spanspek / cantaloup) and those with smooth rinds (e.g. wintermelon). Melons are usually eaten fresh as a hors d'oeuvre at the beginning of the meal or as a dessert fruit at the end of the meal.
Carica papaya (Pawpaw, Papaya) Family: Caricaceae The Pawpaw originates from Mexico and Central America and is now cultivated widely in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. It is eaten raw as a fruit and contains high levels of Vitamins A and C and a phytochemical called beta-cryptoxanthin that promotes health. It also contains papain, which is an antibacterial protease enzyme that has meat tenderising properties and is used for clarifying beer.
Mangifera indica (Mango) Family: Anacardiaceae
The Mango is indigenous to Burma and NE India and its cultivation extends back to about 2000 BC.