We’ve all seen our fair share of oddly shaped vegetables. Carrots with legs. Bulging strawberries. An eggplant with a nose. What makes vegetables occasionally take these abnormal forms?
Fruits and veggies that grow in unusual shapes are often a result of environmental conditions. Due to inadequate pollination, sections of the fruit or vegetable where the seed did not develop can cease to grow, impacting the shape of the food. If there is damage to the plant during the primordium (embryonic development) stage, mutations can arise.
For root vegetables particularly, there’s a lot that can go wrong. A crowded row of radishes can translate into an elongated “radish stem” rather than the round radishes we’re used to seeing in the store. Damage to a carrot or daikon root can cause two, three, or even four different roots to grow, or the development of multiple individual carrots attached to the same stem. Root vegetables grown in freshly manured fields may grow into strange shapes because their roots are drawn out into all directions by the lure of irregular pockets of manured soil. Mmmm…
Sometimes, fruits and vegetables are just too small to be harvested with large-scale farming machines. Farmers can also attempt to shape fruits and vegetables on purpose by constraining their growth, such as these square watermelons developed in Japan.
Luckily for us, weirdly shaped vegetables and fruits have the same nutritional value as their standard-shaped counterparts. “Cosmetically challenged” foods are just as tasty and healthy, and are sometimes offered at a discount simply due to their odd shapes.
A movement toward embracing these “ugly” foods has sparked companies like Imperfect Produce, a San Francisco-based food delivery program that sources ugly fruits and vegetables that would usually go to waste on farms. These fruits and veggies taste the exact same on the inside but look a little different on the outside. Hungry Harvest sells boxes of ugly and surplus produce at low cost. For every box sold, another box is donated to needy families. Boxes are filled with recovered produce—fruits and vegetables that are “often discarded because of aesthetic imperfections (think misshapen eggplants) or logistical inefficiencies (when grocery stores over order).”
So remember, eat your veggies, even if they look a little funny! To see more weird shaped vegetables and fruits, check out the hashtags #uglyfruitandveg, #uglyproduce, #weirdveggies, #wonkyfruit, and #wonkyveg on Instagram.