We all have a roster of fruits and veggies that we know and love (or tolerate), but occasionally we're thrown for a loop: what is this oddly colored root? Is that a tomatillo or a type of berry? Farmer's markets, CSA boxes and friends' gardens can all be the source of surprising bounty in summer months.
But for every fruit or veggie that you don't encounter, there is a burst of nutrition left unused. As we move deep into summer, don't let all that potential go to waste -- try one of these obscure options for unusual flavor and complete nutrition.
A 'scape' is simply the green flower stalk that shoots out of a garlic bulb as it grows. When they are young, green and curled, the scape has a delicious mild garlic flavor and fragrance -- and packs many of the same nutrients as other Allium family foods, such as garlic, leeks and onions. That means it has many of the same <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16484553" target="_hplink">protective cardiovascular properties</a> and potential for <a href="http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/prevention/garlic-and-cancer-prevention" target="_hplink">cancer prevention</a>.
Also known as a ground cherry, this sweet, husked fruit is actually related to the tomatillo rather than the cherry, which means it offers up a healthy dose of the carotenoid lycopene. It is also unusually high in pectin, which has been shown to <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18433105" target="_hplink">moderate cholesterol and blood sugar in rats</a>.
Hen Of The Woods
This massive mushroom has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to boost immune system. With its high levels of fiber, amino acids, potassium, calcium, and magnesium -- as well as niacin and other B vitamins, it's no wonder that the 'shroom is relied on in traditional medicine. But Western medicine is also interested in the immune-boosting properties of this mushroom, in the <em>maitake</em> family: <a href="http://www.springerlink.com/content/x6r7446714752000/?MUD=MP" target="_hplink">a 2009 study</a> found that taking a maitake extract actually improved the immune system of breast cancer patients who were undergoing chemotherapy.
This root is also called the "oyster vegetable" because its taste is often compared to the shellfish. Used in soups and stews, salsify is a <a href="http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/food-nutrition/natural-foods/natural-food-salsify.htm" target="_hplink">great source</a> of fiber, vitamin B-6 and potassium, among other nutrients.
This leafy green is actually a superfood, according to the research: <a href="http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/63314.php" target="_hplink">a study</a> in the <em>American Journal of Clinical Nutrition</em> found that a daily dose of watercress helps prevent against free radical damage and also helps cells to fight off future damage. It also makes an excellent salad.
This white radish variety from East Asia is rich in anthoxanthin, an antioxidant that some research has shown can lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and improve cardiovascular function, according to <a href="http://www.fitsugar.com/What-Daikon-20263858" target="_hplink">Fit Sugar</a>.
This often overlooked member of the <em>brassica</em> family (think: broccoli and Brussels sprouts) is packed full of fiber and vitamin C. It's also a rich source of glucosinolates, <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/003194229085425F/" target="_hplink">a group of cancer-fighting compounds</a>.
These dark, leafy greens are full of folate and beta carotene, making them a nutritional powerhouse choice for salads. And, <a href="http://www.joybauer.com/food-articles/leafy-green-vegetables.aspx#escarole" target="_hplink">according to nutritionist Joy Bauer</a>, the salad ingredient is also a surprisingly rich source of vitamin K, which is important for bone health.