I don't know what it is about me that I love to list things. After the massive list of 66 exotic fruits from around the world, I had to take on the next thing and list as many weird/cool vegetables I could find. Many of these I've actually seen and tried in my travels through Southeast Asia, but some of these goodies from Africa or South American I had never heard of until now.
Oh, and one more thing. Before I get too many angry emails in my inbox, I know that a few of the foods on this list of 36 weird vegetables are not actually vegetables. Anything with a seed is technically a fruit. But whatever man, close enough.
According to Wikipedia, “In everyday usage, a vegetable is any part of a plant that is consumed by humans as food as part of a savoury course or meal.”
So there are some things which are considered vegetables in the culinary vocabulary, but are not vegetables in the botanical sense.
Countdown To Weird Vegetables!
PS. I've also got a big list of heirloom vegetables worth mentioning for all you veggie lovers out there.
36. Black Radish
Black radishes are more commonly found in Europe, but can also be found within the United States at select specialty grocery stores or local farmers markets. They have a very pungent flavor and aroma, kind of like a horseradish.
You definitely don't want to eat them raw like a carrot. They can however, be shredded or diced included in salads or other veggie mixes for to add a bit of bite. They can also be roasted and doused with butter to make them more palatable.
35. Okinawan Purple Sweet Potato
Okinawan purple sweet potatoes are also called Japanese sweet potatoes and the flesh of the potato is an appealing shade of purple. They tend to be drier and denser than normal sweet potatoes, and they are best cooked for longer than normal sweet potatoes.
Their taste is similar to normal sweet potatoes, although they can taste a little richer and more ‘winey’. They are great for adding color to dishes, and are cooked the same was as other varieties of sweet potato.
34. Chinese Artichokes
In both Chinese and Japanese cooking, Chinese artichokes are most often pickled and may be served as part of traditional dishes. The tubers can also be cooked in other ways, such as sautéing in butter or boiling in stock, and can also be eaten raw.
The taste of the tubers is similar to other types of artichoke, although they do also have a little bit of a nutty sweetness as well. The vegetable can be challenging to find, as harvesting it is labor-intensive and the vegetable does not keep for long.
Fiddleheads look as cool as their name suggests. The vegetable is actually the fronds from a young fern when they are still rolled up, and many different species of fern are used.
They contain many different vitamins and minerals, and should be cooked before consumption. There are multiple ways to cook fiddleheads, but safety recommendations suggest that they should be either boiled or steamed prior to any other cooking method.
Their taste is similar to asparagus, with a bit of added nuttiness.
Ramps are known by a wide range of names, including spring onions, wild leeks, wild garlic and wood leeks. They are a form of wild onion and are particularly popular among chefs.
Some of their popularity seems to spring from the short season of the vegetable and the fact that ramps are one of the first vegetables to emerge in the spring. Farmers markets tend to be a good place to find this vegetable, although every so often stores like Whole Foods will also stock them.
Although it looks like red cabbage, dulse is actually a type of seaweed that is attached to rocks as it grows. Dulse is used either fried or fresh in a range of foods, such as chowders and soups, and has a salty taste that complements many dishes.
Dulse has become particularly popular because it contains significant levels of both iron and potassium, while also boasting significant levels of omega fatty acids.
Jicama is an edible root vegetable with many similarities to a turnip. The white flesh of the vegetable has a mild flavor and can be eaten raw or cooked.
When using jicama, the skin can be peeled with a simple vegetable peeler and the flesh will not become soggy or brown once it has been cut. This makes it a good addition to many salads and platters. Jicama is best used with quick-cooking methods, to help keep the freshness of the vegetable.
Kohlrabi is not the most attractive vegetable out there, but it can be a good addition to a meal with a little bit of work. The outer layer of the bulb is tough, and needs to be peeled away before you can do anything.
There is also a fibrous layer below this that needs to be peeled as well. After that, the inner part of the bulb can be used, either raw or cooked. Some approaches for using kohlrabi include cutting it up for salads, as well as roasting or stir-frying the vegetable.
28. Romanesco Broccoli AKA Romaneque Cauliflower
Sometimes simply called Romanesco, this vegetable is part of the cauliflower family. It has a similar taste to cauliflower as well, although some consider it to be a little milder and sweeter.
Like cauliflower, the vegetable can be eaten raw, although it will also hold its texture and flavor if cooked lightly. The most unusual part of this vegetable is its fractal-like visual appearance, which is certainly a talking point for those who haven’t seen it before.
Salsify is a root vegetable that has the unfortunate luck of looking just like a brown stick. The vegetable is actually related to the parsnip and is a tasty and a versatile vegetable.
Surprisingly, it tastes mildly like an oyster when cooked, which has earned it the nickname ‘oyster plant’. Salsify can be cooked in a range of ways, including fried, mashed or boiled, and can be added to many different meals, including both stews and soups.
26. Samphire AKA Sea Beans/Asparagus/Pickles, Pickleweed
Samphire has started to become a popular and trendy garnish in restaurants and in home cooking, although it makes a good ingredient to dishes too.
The plant traditionally grows along the coast in the United Kingdom, although popularity in the United States is growing. Commonly the plant is picked, and when cooked it tends to have a fishy and salty taste.
Sunchokes are a particularly versatile vegetable that has a similar taste to artichokes. They can be eaten both raw and cooked, and one common approach is to slice up the vegetable thinly and use it in salads.
You do want to be a little careful with sunchokes, because they are also noted for causing some issues with bloating and gas – leading to an unofficial name of ‘fartichoke’. This impact is not significant for everyone, but it’s worth being cautious the first few times you try the vegetable, just in case.
The tomatillo is considered to be a staple ingredient in Mexican cooking and is also common within the United States. The fruit tends to be roughly the same size as a small apricot, although there is considerable variation in sizes.
The taste can also vary considerably, with some tasting mild and sweet, while others taste sour. While they can be eaten raw, tomatillos are more common in recipes, like salsa, or roasted, which mellows the flavor of the fruit.
23. White Asparagus
While green asparagus tends to be a common addition to the table, white asparagus is a rarer delicacy, but it can be worth the effort. White asparagus is similar in taste to normal asparagus, although it can be a little milder.
The color difference comes from the way the plant is grown without being exposed to direct sunlight, so it isn’t actually a different species or variety of vegetable.
This unusual vegetable has a few different names and is a particularly common in New Zealand, where it is simply known as a yam, even though it is not a true yam.
The oca is a particularly high source of carbohydrates and energy, although the exact nutrition varies as there are many different varieties of the oca. Oca are commonly roasted, like a potato, but they can also be grilled, fried or even candied. Some varieties are best raw, although other oca varieties only taste good after they have been cooked.
21. Tiger Nut
Despite the name, tiger nuts aren’t actually nuts at all. Instead, they are a type of tuber, although they do have a slightly nutty and earthy taste.
Tiger nuts make a good alternative to nuts as a snack because very few people are allergic to them and they also tend to be high in fiber and very satisfying.
Celeriac is a really good example of an ugly vegetable, but it is also a surprisingly tasty vegetable. Although it is largely unheard of in the United States, celeriac does have a long history in Europe and is frequently used in salads as well as in cooked dishes.
The vegetable is a fantastic alternative for potatoes in meals and can be prepared in similar ways. The advantage of this particular choice is that unlike potatoes, celeriac contains hardly any starch.
19. Kai Lan
Also known as Chinese kale or Chinese broccoli, kai lan is a very common leaf vegetable in Chinese cooking. It is used in a wide number of ways, including steamed, stir-fried and boiled, and can also be eaten raw. Ideally, the youngest parts of the plant are chosen, as these tend to be the most tender and the sweetest.
As you can probably tell, nopal is a type of cactus. Specifically, the name refers to cacti from the genus Opuntia, although this encompasses a large number of different species.
Nopal is common in Mexican food, in recipes such as stews, soups and salads, although it is also frequently eaten raw (with the spines removed). Some research has also looked into the plant for its potential role in diabetes management, although more research in the area is needed.
Also known as yucca and cassava, manioc is a common tuber in many parts of the world, acting as a solid carbohydrate base for meals. It is particularly significant because it is drought resistant and very hardy.
The sweet version of manioc is what we commonly eat, and it can be used in much the same was a potatoes. Like potatoes, it also has a mild flavor, which makes it easy to pair with a wide range of seasonings.
Despite their name, yardlongs tend to only grow to around half a yard in length. Additionally, many consumers prefer the beams when they are around 10-12 inches long, which is typically before the beans have fully matured.
The beans can come in both black-seeded and red-seeded types, although the black-seeded is the most common for human consumption.
15. Apollo Broccoli AKA Broccolini
Apollo broccoli has many similarities to regular broccoli, although it tends to have longer stalks and the florets are considerably smaller.
The vegetable is actually a hybrid between kai lan and broccoli, even though people often refer to it as a young version of broccoli. Like broccoli, the whole vegetable can be eaten and it has a taste somewhere between asparagus and broccoli.
14. Dragon Carrot
These deep purple carrots are an unusual addition to the garden and to the plate, but they are growing in popularity. The carrots have a complex flavor that offers both spicy and sweet notes.
This makes them a lovely addition to salads or platters, and they have the advantage of really standing out on the plate, although they can also be cooked like regular carrots. Like normal carrots, dragon carrots are easy to grow and the seeds have become relatively easy to find.
13. Red Perilla (Shiso)
Red perilla is a Japanese herb known for its aromatic leaves. It also has a long history of being used in traditional medicine and as part of tea, although it is now used in many modern Japanese dishes.
The herb is especially useful as a seasoning for a wide range of foods and is often used in the place of basil for cooking. The physical appearance of the herb also makes it popular as an ornamental plant, especially as it has a nice smell and is easy to grow.
12. Chinese Flowering Leek
Chinese flowering leek is another vegetable that goes by a lot of names. One particularly common one is garlic chives, which goes a long way in explaining the vegetable and what it is used for.
As that name suggests, the Chinese flowering leek has a similar taste to a chive, but tends to be more garlicky (although not as much as actual garlic). This vegetable can be used in any dish that you would use chives in, although the difference in taste means that you can be more liberal than when using normal chives.
11. Winter Squash
Winter squash is a type of summer-growing fruit and the term encompasses a number of different species of squash.
The name specifically refers to varieties of squash that are harvested once they are fully matured. At that point, the seeds of the squash have developed fully and the rind of the fruit forms a tough rind.
Typically, the fruit is eaten cooked. Pumpkin is the most common example of a winter squash and another example is spaghetti squash, although there are many other types of winter squash.
10. Winter Melon
Winter melon is one of only a few types of vegetables that grow in the winter in countries like China, hence the name. Despite appearances, winter melon is considered a vegetable and the flesh of the fruit is savory, not sweet.
As such, it is eaten in many savory dishes, such as stir-fries, soups and curries. The melons are also large, growing to weight more than 30 pounds when they are fully matured, and are often sold by the slice because of this.
9. Wax Gourd
8. Chinese Water Spinach AKA Hollow Heart
Many people have either never heard of Chinese water spinach or overlook it entirely, but the vegetable is a good ingredient in cooking and also tastes great raw.
The stems of the vegetable are hollow and are easy to chew and digest raw without issue. The best way to cook the vegetable is to stir-fry it and you want the water spinach to remain green and crunch once it is cooked.
7. Lotus Root
Lotus root has to be one of the weirdest vegetables that I have ever seen, yet at the same time, it is also a pretty interesting ones.
The root is a good source of fiver in the diet and also contains some valuable vitamins and minerals, which can make it a valuable addition to the diet.
Mature lotus root should be cooked (rather than eaten raw), but the options for cooking are extensive. Boiling, braising, stir-frying and even deep-frying are all viable options for lotus root, although stir-frying is by far the most common approach.
6. Bitter Melon
Bitter melon comes in a number of different varieties, sizes and shapes. Two of the most common are the Chinese variety, which is light green and has relatively few ridges, and the Indian variety, which is a darker green with a greater number of ridges.
When the fruit is ripe, the surface turns a yellow or orange color, but typically, bitter melon is eaten cooked either in the green stage or when it is just beginning to yellow.
5. Silk Squash
Silk squash is a particularly common vegetable in China, partly because of the taste of the vegetable and partly because of health benefits that some people associate with it.
As with some other vegetables, silk squash is not eaten when it is fully mature and mature silk squash tends to have a bitter taste. Instead, the immature silk squash are used, and they are commonly steamed, deep-fried or stir-fried depending on the specific recipe.
Silk squash can also be substituted into any recipe that calls for zucchini.
4. Bamboo Shoot
Most people probably know that bamboo shoots exist, but the idea of them being used as food is less common. These shoots are particularly common in Asian dishes and can be purchase in a range of different sizes and shapes, as well as canned, dried or fresh, depending on where you look.
The shoots are rich in nutrients, particularly protein and a number of important amino acids. At the same time, they are relatively low in both fat and sugar, making the shoots a particularly good choice for healthy eating.
The term saltwort refers to a large number of different plants that grow well in salty environments, such as along the seashore and in salt marshes.
While the species are often not related, they tend to have a number of similarities and many are particularly good choices for the dinner table. If grown in the garden, saltwort tends not to be salty and instead has its own subtle and unique taste that can be quite appealing.
2. Daikon Radish
Daikon radish is a mild-tasting white radish that is relatively low in calories and high in some nutrients. Some claim that the radish is a superfood and can help to improve health.
Regardless of whether this is accurate or not, daikon radish is a good addition to a number of meals, and can be eaten raw or cooked, depending on your preference. In cooking, daikon radishes can be used is most recipes that call for turnips.
Typically, the smaller radishes are best for raw eating, while the larger ones should be cooked, as the taste can change with size.
1. Calabash AKA Bottle Gourd
The calabash is an interesting fruit. When young and immature, the fruit can be harvested and used as a vegetable.
This use is common across a number of different cultures, including in Chinese cuisine, in Pakistan and in Vietnam. However, when the fruit is fully matured it is often dried and used as a bottle.
In fact, the plant has been commonly cultivated for the usefulness of the matured fruits, rather than the potential use of the immature fruit as a vegetable.