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Strange Vegetables that Haunt Your Dreams

5 mins

Boil them, mash them, stir fry them, or hysterically beat them with the family broom. Here is a short list of vegetables which, when seen in a poorly lit room, can make otherwise reasonable people scream. Even the other vegetables are traumatized by them.

Table of Contents

There are vegetables and there are Vegetables. And then there are VEGETABLES. Lastly, there are “...what the hell is that?!

Just when you thought yourself an expert on the World of Vegetables, you find out this nutty planet has been hiding the truth from you. Vegetables that appear to have been imported from other planets may be just the start of deeper discoveries.

Let this short-list of powerful, panic-inducing produce be your guide to a larger, freakier world. Welcome to the crazy little mixed bag we call planet Earth. 

Vegetables That May Make You Flinch Under the Right Circumstances

We’re all familiar with cauliflower, lettuce, the homely potato. Even as we delve into the botanical wonder of vegetables, learning of their various nutrient gifts and amazing physiological power—they can be a little dull. I mean — they’re vegetables. The experts try to get us excited by placing exclamation points after breathless sentences, like this one seen recently online:

"Yams and sweet potatoes are not the same thing!"

Yeah, we get it. *sigh* As marvelous as they are, the fact is we weary of vegetables. How often can you stare at a bowl of garbanzo beans with an expression of wonder? Not very often, I can tell you.

So to cut to the chase, allow me to introduce you to a small sampling of bizarre vegetables with which you may be unfamiliar. How bizarre? If you saw one of these in a darkened room you would knock people down in your haste to escape. Though it's true that the response to terror-vegetables does differ between fraidy-cats individuals.

When your server appears to be so filled with dread they can barely fill your water glass, leave a sympathetic tip. 


Calculus enthusiasts, physicists, and the merely eccentric are often heard hollering about how All Reality is Underwritten by Math.

If that sounds like New Age hooey, have a look at Romanesco —  also known as Roman Cauliflower. It originates from Italy. I would suggest it also originates from the mind of Sir Isaac Newton — inventor of calculus; or The Calculus as he ominously called it.


Saaaaay. You done with that nopales?

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. These are the “edible leaves" of the cactus known as Opuntia, a native of Mexico. Note the "leaves" are an inch thick and covered with spines. Grill it, boil it, eat it raw, or fling it at an attacking desert rattler. 

This is a desert plant that cowboys in the poorly-produced TV shows of our youth would cleverly pierce for the water within. This thing grows in some of the least inviting places on Earth, like the U.S. resort destination Death Valley. I mean, "Death Valley"? When the locals see you trying to eat this thing and start laughing, keep your dignity. 


These things don't really look like food. What do they look like? Make a game of it to calm yourself. 

Seems like a bad idea to include any iteration of the word "choke" when naming an edible, but what do I know?

This one is also called Jerusalem Artichoke. Does it have any association whatsoever with either Jerusalem or Artichokes? Nope. But calling it the Jerusalem Artichoke gives this awful stuff a sort of Mediterranean mojo that may cause hapless restaurant patrons to mistakenly order it from the menu. 
Sunchoke is actually the root of a bloom that looks like a dainty sunflower. You prepare it as you would a radium grenade; from behind lead and wearing hazmat sleevies. Forgive the technical jargon.

Black Radish

Yeah — it’s a radish, but black. Questions? In this era of “the occasional nuclear accident”, one would not be out of line to pause before eating these things. Commonly found in Europe, Black Radishes have a slightly acrid sensory presentation, which has been described as horseradish-like.

Shred them into a salad or throw them at your adversaries. When serving, remove the whole of the black outer layer so your guests don’t freak out.


As unnerving as they are vivid green, these comestibles are the furled fronds of a number of different ferns, including Ostrich fern, Lady fern, Royal fern — you get the idea.

By severing the fronds before they ”unfurl”, Fiddlehead curators capture these “fiddles” at the peak of their potassium-rich potency.
What these geniuses seem not to have noticed is that fiddleheads look like the larval stage of that life form that snuck onto the ship before you left Neptune. Get your running shoes on.
Indian (subcontinental), Nepali, Māori, and Asian cuisines all make use of fiddleheads as a vegetable. Here in the States, our lack of experience with fiddleheads has been the cause of a phenomenon called "luncheon mass hysteria". 


The word would seem to describe "the act of lying about the ingredients of your homemade salsa." Good guess, but no. 

Also known as "the oyster vegetable", salsify looks like a plain brown stick at a glance. On closer inspection, though, it still looks like a plain brown stick. When cooked, Salsify is said offer a flavor mildly reminiscent of oyster. Let that sink in. This stuff can be mashed, boiled or fried. Whoever first thought this oyster-flavored stick should be eaten at all is anyone’s guess.

you will be tempted to disarm these frightening veggies by renaming them. have at it.

Lotus Root

This veggie looks like it fell off an intergalactic turnip truck. A subaqueous rootstalk of the Water Lily, Lotus Root grows in the substrate of a pond or other shallow body of water. Lotus root has lots of fiber, protein, and particularly vitamin C.

Best of all? When you slice it open cross-wise, this unsettling root food reveals valve-like structures that will cause you to set down your paring knife and take three steps back.


If a many-tentacled creature wearing a glass helmet were to blast a green apple with a mysterious and terrible Neutron Beam® the result might look something like kohlrabi. Steam it, boil it, bake it, flee from it.

A deliberately bred descendant of the wild cabbage, Kohlrabi is related to other intentional veggies like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts. Kohlrabi is principally found in Vietnam, Eastern India, and Bangladesh. Oh, and in remote forest clearings where strange lights and sounds have been reported by the villagers.


Oca is a root plant that — let’s be honest here — looks like the subterranean bug army whose attack on some innocent small town in the middle of nowhere keeps you up and watching waaaaay past bedtime.

How surprising, then, to learn that these creepy-looking tubers taste like sweet potato, but with a reported zing that makes them more interesting and tasty. Boil them, stir fry them, or hysterically beat them with the family broom — this friendly little nugget is straight out of the low-budget midnight sci-fi movies of your childhood.

Make No Mistake — Vegetables Are our Friends

There are many frightening things in this world, and it seems fair to say that vegetables don’t necessarily top that list. The brute fact is this: fruits and vegetables are power objects pumped full of phytonutrients by a largely mysterious natural order. The plant kingdom is baseline recipient of the solar Wow that literally powers Earth's biosphere.

Another way to say that? Plants turn sunlight into salad. You want to ingest the raw energy of the sun? Do what Mom tells you. Eat your vegetables. Whatever they look like.


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