Origins of food go back further than we imagine

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Column by Theresa Howard, Extension Service

By Theresa Howard

We often associate certain foods with different countries. Spaghetti is Italian, tacos are Mexican and what could be more American than apple pie? Did you know the very first apples ever eaten grew several thousand years ago in fertile land south of the Black Sea? The history and origins of different fruits and vegetables are as interesting and unique as their taste.

Records from as far back as 550 B.C. tell us lettuce was served at the tables of Persian kings. This leafy green also was a favorite of pre-Christian Romans.  Cucumbers were grown in India 3,000 years ago and hieroglyphics drawn on the walls of 5,000-year-old Egyptian tombs depict laborers eating onions.

Olives were cultivated in Crete as early as 350 B.C. and avocados, relatively new to America, were enjoyed by natives of Central and South American countries as early as 7,000 B.C.

Of the roughly 240,000 plant species in the world, about 3,000 are economically important. Twelve of these, mostly grains, provide the greatest percentage of human food. Only about 100 species make up the most commonly eaten fruits and vegetables.

Much of the produce we consume in the United States originated in other parts of the world. Large seeded beans including green beans, kidney beans, lima beans, black beans and white beans all came from Latin America. Corn, cacao, tomatoes, squash, peppers, peanuts, pineapples, pumpkins and potatoes also migrated north from Latin America. Contributions from the Far East include Asian pears, peaches, apricots and rhubarb.

Blueberries, cranberries, pawpaws, American persimmons and American and muscadine grapes are native to the United States. Native American nut crops include pecans, hickory nuts, black walnuts and American chestnuts. Sunflowers and Jerusalem artichokes were first grown in the United States along with summer squash and marrow pumpkins.

You can find locally raised fruits and vegetables at the LaRue County Farmers Market-now Fridays only, through Oct. 15.