Rare Vegetables and Fruits You Can Only Grow


You won’t find these at the grocery store! These rare vegetables and fruits are hard to come by unless you grow them yourself. Out of the thousands of options of edibles out there, here are a handful of my favourites.

radish pods are a rare vegetable you can only grow
Radish pods

When it comes to the grocery store, produce isn’t selected for its flavour. Fruits and vegetables are chosen based on their size and ability to travel and store well. For instance, you know and recognize orange carrots. But if I grow them, I will grow the red heirloom varieties for their sweeter flavour.

Or tomatoes. The heirloom varieties ripened on the sun have THE best flavour, and those in the grocery store aren’t even close to competing.

Yes, these rare vegetables you can only grow don’t ship or store well. It’s why you won’t see them at the grocery store. But if you don’t grow them yourself, you may never get to taste their splendour.

There are an estimated quarter of a million plants we can use for agricultural purposes. So, of course, I’m only going to name a handful. Use this list of rare vegetables and fruits as a jumping-off point for your own edible garden.

Golden Raspberries are an unusual fruit
Golden raspberries

The Need for Agricultural Diversity

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations estimates that we use only 3% of the quarter of a million plants available for agricultural use. Even further, ¾ of the world’s food supply relies on just 12 mega crops, including rice, wheat, and maize.

While our food system is highly productive, it’s extremely fragile. Take a look at bananas, for example. During the later half of the 19th century, the most popular variety of bananas was Gros Michel, known for its taste and resistance to bruising.

However, during the 1950s, a disease known as Panama Disease (banana wilt) swept through and destroyed commercial production of the banana. This forced producers to switch to a new disease-resistant variety, Cavendish. Which now accounts for approximately 47% of the global banana production and could be wiped out by another train of the banana wilt.

Another well-known example is the Great Famine in Ireland. One-third of Ireland’s population relied on potatoes for food, and potato blight infected most crops. An estimated 1 million people died as a direct result, either due to disease or hunger.

We become increasingly vulnerable by focusing on only a few highly productive crops. Climate change makes extreme droughts, flooding, varying temperatures, and disease outbreaks more common, and diversity is the best way to become resilient.

unusual vegetables to grow at home
Nettle is actually a super green, but most consider it a weed.

Rare Vegetables and Fruits to Grow at Home

These unusual vegetables and plants are hard to come by, even at a garden centre in some cases. Oftentimes, you can get them from another gardener. Community gardens are great places to share plants!

Sunchokes

Also known as Jerusalem artichokes, these are edible tubers that can be cooked and eaten like a potato. Above ground, they sprout very tall, sunflower-like flowers. They can get up to 5-10 feet tall.

The tubers are very prolific, coming back year after year, even when you think you’ve harvested all of them. They’re very low maintenance.

They have a slightly nutty flavour and should only be eaten in controlled amounts due to causing gas and bloating.

rare vegetables to grow
Harvest sunchokes in the fall.

Radish Pods

While radishes may be a very popular vegetable, their seed pods are a lesser-known way of enjoying the vegetable. I came to know radish pods after volunteering at UBC to teach inner-city kids about gardening. Their gardens would be left alone in the summer, meaning the radishes would go unharvested and go to seed.

The radish pods have a slightly spicy taste and an appearance similar to edamame. You can eat them raw like a snap pea or include them in stir-fries, soups, or salads.

Rhubarb

Yes, you can technically get rhubarb at the grocery store. But most people don’t since it’s not the typical kind of plant you seek out. Instead, you usually have a plant in your backyard, or you’re gifted some rhubarb…and realize you’ve got to do something with it!

But I highly recommend we start making rhubarb more mainstream. It’s very prolific, it’s easy to grow, and it’s a perennial.

vegetables you can only grow
Only the stalks of rhubarb should be eaten.

Egyptian Walking Onions

This article idea all began with Egyptian walking onions since you can’t really buy them. I inherited my own from a community garden. And once you have them, you’re set.

They get their name from the unusual way they grow. The flowers that bloom at the top of the flower turn into tiny bulbs known as aerial bulbils. As the plant gets heavier, they droop down until the tiny bulbs hit the ground. They plant themselves, slowly walking around the garden.

Ground Cherries

Ground cherries grow low to the ground, with plenty of dark green leaves and small yellow flowers that turn into golden, cherry-sized fruit.

Their taste is similar to tomatillos, with a hint of pineapple flavour. And unlike some other unusual vegetables on this list, they last in their paper husks for up to 3 months. They have built-in storage with their paper husks.

Pile of harvested ground cherries with the husk on
All plants, including ground cherries, in the Physalis genus have papery husks known as calyx.

Luffa Gourds

There’s a chance you’ve had a luffa gourd in your house and didn’t know it. These exotic vegetables are actually most commonly used as an organic shower loofah, but they’re also edible.

They grow on very vigorous vines. When young and tender, you can eat them, and they taste like summer squash. When left to mature on the vibe, they turn fibrous and can dry into these natural shower loofahs.

Tayberry

Tayberries are a cross between raspberries and blackberries. When perfectly ripe, they have a very sweet flavour, but you have to get the timing right, or they’re quite sour.

These berries will turn to mush and fall apart very soon after you pick them. They’re best eaten straight from the vine and won’t ripen anymore once picked.

But in the end, I personally think they’re tastier than both raspberries and blackberries!

rare fruits and vegetables to grow at home
These berries take longer to ripen and need to be a bit squishy so they’re not too sour.

Cucamelons

You might know these little green fruits as mouse melons or Mexican sour gherkins. These were a common fruit eaten by the Aztec people and have lost popularity over the years. But they look like little grape-sized watermelons!

Cucamelons taste almost like a citrusy cucumber. I like to pickle them or toss them into salads. Or popped straight from the vine and into my mouth.

a bounty of cucamelons form the garden
Eat a cucamelon in its entirety, popping the skin, seed, and fruit in your mouth.

Honourable Mentions

As I’ve mentioned, I could add many rare vegetables and other edibles to the list. Here are a few unusual vegetables and plants that are worth mentioning:

  • Lovage
  • Mulberries
  • Salmonberries
  • Saskatoon berries
  • Tomatillo
  • Endive
  • Winter radishes
  • Green amaranth
  • Goumi berry
goumi berry
Goumi Berry (Elaeagnus multiflora)

More Edibles to Consider Growing



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