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Food & Hunger

Dulse, Romanesco, and Crosne: 13 Bizarre Foods to Try This Fall

Flickr/Philip Hay

There was a time when pieces of misshapen fruits or vegetables were destined for the landfill or compost heap, thanks to rigid standards of aesthetics placed on produce.

Fortunately, this type of veggie-shame is decreasing, in part because of initiatives to make lumpy, misshapen hunks of vitamins and nutrients beloved around the world. Today, ugly foods can find new appreciation outside landfills — where they once counted for 50% of America’s food waste.

Still there are many other vegetables out there getting no love because you’ve likely never heard of them. Did you know there is a type of seaweed out there that Bon Appetit claims is the new kale? Oh, and it taste like bacon. That’s basically every vegetarian’s dream food. There are purple potatoes, tiny ferns, and bright red stalks of celery-like roots that make mouthwatering pies.

Food diversity is such a beautiful thing — there are 20,000 types of edible plants in the world yet only 20 species feed 90% of the world.

So put down that pumpkin-spice latte and get to know these 13 unusual foods.


1. Oca

Flickr Emma Cooper Oca vegetables list .jpgImage: Flickr/Emma Cooper

This elusive competitor to the potato is also known Uca or the New Zealand yam. It’s technically a tuber, and has been traditionally grown by Quechua and Aymara farmers as a staple to rural diet in the Andes region. Today it grows primarily in Latin America still, though it can grow anywhere with poor soil, high altitude, and harsh climates. Oca is one of the highest sources for carbs/energy in vegetable form. It’s also filled with vitamins A, B6, potassium, and can contain small amounts of fiber. In Mexico, Oca is known as papa extranjero (foreign potato) and is eaten with salt, lemon, and hot peppers.

2. Celeriac

3061723092_36582973bb_z.jpgImage: Flickr/Alice Carrier

Celeriac is a root veggie which originated in the Mediterranean and is cultivated in parts of North Africa, Siberia, and North America today. Also more commonly known as “Celery Root” it’s great in soups, stews, or mixed with other unusual roasted veggies.

Check out this recipe for herb-baked celeriac for a healthy fall comfort food.

3. Kohlrabi

kohlrabi Image: Flickr/Jeremy Keith

I first encountered this mashup between a cabbage and turnip while working at a restaurant specializing in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food. It’s a staple in Kashmiri diet, though it’s also commonly eaten in many German-speaking countries, too. Its flavor is both light and refreshing when shaved into a salad yet can be comforting when roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Kohlrabi is in season in October, making it the perfect time to try it both ways.

4. Romanesco

romanesco Image: Flickr/Manuel

Romanesco sounds more like a pasta sauce than a vegetable, yet this bright green hypnotizing veggie is actually a relative to cauliflower and broccoli. It’s been around in Italy since the 16th century. Despite its funky look, don’t be afraid to pick up a bunch and roast it with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and paprika at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.    

5. Samphire

These are those weird pickled things you’ve probably seen in jars before but never bothered to figure out what else they can be used for. Or maybe you’ve had it crunch under your feet at the beach. There are two types of samphire, marsh and rock, and marsh samphire is more widely available. Also known as “sea asparagus” it could be a great alternative to generic asparagus.

6. Nopal (Cactus)

Cactus tacos are popping up as an alternative to veggie options and they are delicious. Nopal is the name for the prickly pear cactus and its “paddle,” which can be eaten. Usually cut into strips, nopal can be fried or sauteed, and added it eggs, tacos, or salad or made into chipotle stew. It has a texture similar to green beans with a lighter taste.

7. Cassava

yucca cassava rootImage: Flickr/Emily

Also known as yuca, manioc, and found in tapioca — this bizarre and mysterious food was even named as one of TIME’s 10 Most Dangerous Foods. When made incorrectly it can produce cyanide, but the vast majority of the time it’s simple a starchy root you didn’t know was another fall root option. They make great chips, and are a solid alternative to homemade french fries.

8. Dulse

This bizarre vegetable has my attention. A replacement for kale!? Taste like bacon? What is going on here, and why haven’t more people heard of dulse? Seems strange, since the edible seaweed has been around since the 15th century in Europe, and you can buy it in most grocery stores or online in a dried form. But recent innovations from Oregon State University with dulse, like transforming it into ice cream, popcorn brittle, puffed dulse crackers, and “DLT” sandwiches are quickly deeming others to call it a new superfood.

9. Nettle

A photo posted by Oxygen Two (@oxygen.two) on

Nettle could very likely be another dangerous food. It comes with a wicked sting along the edges until cooked. It’s a wonderful substitution for tea when brewed with hot wate, and some say nettle has many health benefits. Perfect timing to ward off that fall cold!

10. Crosne

Crosne weird vegetablesImage: Flickr/RGS

Crosne could be considered its own category of ugly food. Common in Japan and China, Crosne has had been a tough sell in the US. “Looks like larvae, tastes like artichoke” said The Huffington Post of this grubby looking tuber also known as Chinese artichoke. It’s in season in October so give it a try this fall.

11. Rhubarb

Rhubarb is incredibly easy to grow, and it looks like bright red celery (if you’ve never seen it in its glorious natural state.) Super sour until cooked, rhubarb is perfect for baking into pies and tarts. Careful, though — the leaves are poisonous, but the stalk is delicious cooked up into something sweet or even savory.

12. Tomatillo

If you’ve ever had green salsa, then you’ve had tomatillos. However, you need to get to know these sticky “Mexican husk tomatoes” outside that jar of salsa. They're best when they're fresh. I recently tried out a recipe for mushroom quinoa posole with fresh tomatillos and while it took a while to track down tomatillos in the store, the comforting soup was well worth the search.

13. Kabocha squash

Poor squash, the name alone lends less likability as fall foods compared to pumpkin. However, most canned pumpkin is actually a blend of squash as it’s sweeter and has a nuttier flavor than the iconic orange pumpkin. One of the best is kabocha squash. Though it looks more like watermelon with its dark green tough exterior, it's also known as a “Japanese pumpkin.” Break through the hard shell of this squash and you’ll find the soft-center of this pumpkin-wannabe can be roasted many way. Toast the seeds with some cayenne for 20 minuntes at 400 degrees for an extra bonus.