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Results tagged “food plant diversity series”

Oct 28, 2010: Capsicum chinense [Habanero Group]

Capsicum chinense  [Habanero Group]

Thanks to Claire for writing today's entry, the last in the food and plant diversity series:

This photograph of Capsicum chinense was provided by Eric Hunt of San Francisco, California (Eric in SF@Flickr) via the BPotD Flickr Pool. His image of habanero peppers was taken at the Alemany Farmer's Market in San Francisco. Much appreciated Eric!

Capsicum chinense is in the Solanaceae. Other cultivated species with edible tissues in this family include tomato, potato and eggplant. Capsicum chinense is well-known for having a number of cultivated varieties, including the Habanero group of cultivars and 'Datil' as well as being a parent of the Naga Jolokia cultivar group (peppers of hybrid origin from Bangladesh and Assam, measured to be the hottest in the world). Nikolaus von Jacquin, who described Capsicum chinense in 1776 from seeds acquired in the Caribbean, incorrectly thought the species came from China (in part the reason for the scientific name Capsicum chinense, "of China").

Chili peppers (PDF) get their incredible heat from capsaicinoid molecules present in the fruit. The hotness is traditionally measured by the Scoville scale in Scoville Heat Units (SHU). However, the Scoville scale is subjective, so a quantitative measure, high performance liquid chromatography, is now used with subsequent conversion to SHU. Peppers from the Habanero group range from 100,000 to 350,000 SHU while the Naga Jolokia group range from a whopping 855,000 to 1,075,000 SHU! By way of comparison, Jalapeño peppers range from 2500 to 8000 SHU.

Some major producing areas of Capsicum (encompassing many cultivated varieties of edible pepper) are Spain, eastern Europe, north Africa, Mexico, and the southwest United States. Originally from the Americas, Capsicum chinense was likely first cultivated in Peru or Bolivia, but spread throughout the world, first locally in the tropical and subtropical New World and then to distant continents. Spicy chilis are now a major ingredient in numerous dishes from cultures all over the world. It can be dried or eaten fresh, ground up, chopped, put in salsas, sauces and more! Pass that Tabasco please!

Oct 27, 2010: Carya ovata

Carya ovata

Continuing with the plant and food diversity series today, we have a photograph shared by Robert Klips, aka Orthotrichum@Flickr (original image via the BPotD Flickr Pool). Thank you!

Daniel Moerman's excellent Native American Ethnobotany provides a number of food uses of shagbark hickory by First Nations peoples, with the listing of food uses by the Iroquois being the most extensive. Iroquois uses included: drinking the liquid of crushed and boiled nutmeats as a beverage; feeding the oil from crushed and boiled nutmeats to babies, and crushing the nuts for use as ingredients in breads, puddings, gravies, and soups. Many First Nations ate the nuts raw, and at least some peoples harvested these for use as a food in winter. Another use common across different peoples was to use the tree to produce sweeteners. Sugars were either extracted from the running sap or from boiling the hickory chips.

Shagbark hickory is also used indirectly to gather food. Due to its elasticity, the wood was used for the construction of bows and arrows (i.e., hunting). The weight and toughness of the wood was also desirable for the construction of ploughs and early farm implements. While some of these uses may no longer be common, the smoke from the wood remains in use as a popular flavouring and preservative of meats and cheeses.

Carya ovata is native to much of the eastern USA as well as small portions of Ontario and Quebec. It can grow to 40m (130ft) tall, though it averages perhaps half that height. Additional photographs of Carya ovata are available via Wikipedia.

Oct 26, 2010: Manihot esculenta

Most of today's entry was written by Claire with respect to the first photograph. I've added the second photograph and a little bit of commentary at the end. Claire writes:

Ton Rulkens (tonrulkens@Flickr) provided us with this beautiful photograph via the BPotD Flickr Pool of the flower of Manihot esculenta 'Maria' taken in Chimoio, Mozambique. Thank you Ton for helping us continue with the plant diversity and food series!

Manihot esculenta, or, commonly, cassava, manioc or yuca is a member of the Euphorbiaceae or spurge family. It is originally known from Brazil and Paraguay, but has spread to nearly all tropical regions around the world. There are no known wild types of this plant--it has been classified as a cultigen (like rice), i.e., it is only known from cultivation. The largest producers of Manihot esculenta are Nigeria, Brazil, and Thailand. As it needs at least eight months of sun, and does not tolerate frost well, the plant can only be cultivated in the tropics (and does particularly well in savanna climates).

The large, starchy root is often used as the edible part of the plant (although the leaves can also be eaten if prepared properly) and is the staple source of food for much of the equatorial world. Approaches to processing of the root by different cultures ranges from boiling or baking, to drying or fermenting. Because of its high and pure starch content, cassava has many uses. It is typically known in the temperate world as the ingredient of boba or pearls in tea slushes and tapioca (tapioca pudding anyone?). In countries where it is the staple carbohydrate source, people make alcohol, paste, flour, pudding and syrups out of the root. In addition to a human food, the cultigen is also beginning to be harvested as a biofuel for ethanol production as well as for animal feed. The Animal Feed Resources Information System states that the leaves and stems are used to harvest protein meal for animal feed. Almost six tons of crude protein can be obtained per hectare!

Due to Manihot esculenta's high content of cyanogenic glucosides, cassava is toxic when eaten raw or processed improperly. Cyanides released from the cyanogenic glucosides can cause a disease called konzo, which is permanent and paralytic. Of the two varieties, sweet and bitter, the bitter plants have the highest concentrations and the disease is common in women in children in rural parts of Africa where the bitter variety is very common. The root must be processed and prepared properly in order to remove the majority of these toxins.

Daniel adds: the second photograph features some cassava chips I picked up on the weekend (I knew Claire was writing about cassava this week). These have since been shared with most of the UBC Botanical Garden staff, and it seemed to me that everyone thought they were tasty, if not delicious.

Oct 22, 2010: Solanum hybrid

Solanum hybrid

Thank you once again to Eric in San Francisco (Eric in SF@Flickr) for contributing an image (original) via the BPotD Flickr Pool. Much appreciated!

Before starting with today's entry: it's looking like the garden web site, including BPotD, will be moved to the new server sometime next week (the lack of entries is due to my preparing for the transfer). Fingers crossed that this helps resolves some of the issues we've been experiencing. It won't be Monday, though, as I'm also preparing for my lecture.

Continuing with the "Plant Diversity and Food" series, today's photograph highlights a food long in cultivation in the high Andes of South America (parts of Peru and Bolivia). These tubers are known as "bitter potatoes", and can be either Solanum × juzepczukii (a naturally-occurring hybrid of Solanum acaule and Solanum stenotomum) or Solanum × curtilobum (a cross between Solanum × juzepczukii and Solanum tuberosum subsp. andigena). Domestication is thought to have began approximately 8000 years ago, with particularly extensive use in the past 3000 years.

Bitter potatoes are often grown as a security crop. In comparison to the common potato, they are far more tolerant of the temperatures of high altitudes. From the chapter on tubers in Neglected Crops: 1492 from a Different Perspective: "Recently, in an area of Peru with frosts and temperatures of -5°C, the reduction in the harvest was 5 percent in the case of Solanum × juzepczukii, 30 percent in the case of Solanum × curtilobum and 40 percent in the case of the common potato."

Unlike the common potato, however, they require processing before they can be ingested. Bitter glycoalkaloids are present in the tubers, and these are broken down by processes akin to freeze-drying. For the production of black chuño, the tubers are subjected to a series of night-day cycles consisting of freezing at night and drying in the high-altitude sun during the day. Black chuño is often later rehydrated as a principal constituent of soups and stews. White chuño is a festival food, and it is processed in a more labour-intensive manner involving peeling of the bitter potatoes and storing them in water or constantly spraying them with water before beginning the process of drying. In some instances, geophagy (in this case, the consumption of clay) is also practiced as a means to neutralize the bitter taste of these potatoes (ref: The Cultural History of Plants).

Botany resource link: Eric also sent along the following link to share: the US National Science Foundation's Science Nation online magazine has an article and video on "Science Behind Bars". The article discusses Dr. Nalini Nadkarni's Sustainable Prisons Project, which has a mission to "reduce the environmental, economic and human costs of prisons by training offenders and correctional staff in sustainable practices...we bring science into prisons by helping scientists conduct ecological research and conserve biodiversity through projects with offenders, college students and community partners."

Oct 19, 2010: Vaccinium vitis-idaea

Vaccinium vitis-idaea

Claire Fadul wrote today's entry, as part of the "Plant Diversity and Food" series:

Taken in the Bragg Creek Natural Area in Alberta, Canada, Anne Elliot (annkelliot@Flickr) has submitted this lovely close-up of Vaccinium vitis-idaea or the mountain cranberry via the BPotD Flickr Pool (original image). Thank you Anne!

The hardy Vaccinum vitis-idaea is an evergreen shrub found through the northern hemisphere in boreal regions north to the tundra. You may have heard it called lingonberry, but mountain, lowbush, and alpine cranberry are also used as common names. Vaccinum vitis-idaea is from the Ericaceae--the heath or heather family. Other members of the family include bearberry, cranberry, blueberry, bilberry, Arbutus spp. and Rhododendron spp. Efloras.org cites 46 genera, 212 species of Ericaceae found in North America and roughly 120 genera and 4100 species worldwide

Vaccinum vitis-idaea is a low-growing groundcover. It produces acidic, bright red berries high in tannins and anthocyanins (water soluble pigments found in the vacuole of plant cells). The fruits are packed with vitamins and minerals and were used by people living in northern climates as a remedy against scurvy and deficiencies in the wintertime.

Vaccinum vitis-idaea is not commonly cultivated and is mostly picked wild. The berries can be preserved and are used in many edibles such as jams, wines, baked goods, sauces and more. Because of the tart flavour, they are not commonly eaten raw. The berries are also an important food source for bears, birds, and foxes in the autumn and winter months.

Oct 15, 2010: Malus 'Creston'

Malus 'Creston'

We start our October series on "Plant Biodiversity and Food" with our nearly-annual photograph of an apple (not sure what happened in 2007), a reference to UBC Botanical Garden's Apple Festival. The Apple Festival is our most well-attended event of the year, and it's a great opportunity to sample some apples one's never tried before (previous year's BPotD apples: Malus 'Elstar', Malus 'Jonagold', Malus 'Melrose', Malus 'Golden Russet', Malus SPA493 and Malus 'Cox's Orange Pippin'). I've just checked the booklet, and all of these are available this year for purchase or tasting, along with dozens and dozens more.

Since the booklet has great descriptions of the varieties, I'll quote from it to start: [Malus 'Creston' was] released from the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Apple Breeding Program in Summerland, British Columbia in 1997. In tests, it finishes in the top two for crispness, juiciness, sweetness and flavour. Its parents are 'Golden Delicious' and an unreleased test apple," Malus 'NJ 381049'; it was originally bred in 1966 at Rutgers University, though the seedling was planted in Summerland in 1969. Around the office, we sampled the apple in today's photograph, and it was universally liked: crisp, tangy to start but developing into sweetness and definitely juicy. It would be on my list of favourites to purchase at the Apple Festival, but I doubt any will remain by the time I can purchase after my volunteering stint.

For additional information on Malus 'Creston', please see the US Patent for Malus 'Creston' or the Cultivar Description of Malus 'Creston' (PDF) from the Canadian Journal of Plant Science.

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