Here’s an easy way make a quick, simple stir-fry dinner that’s totally vegan and uses a variety of veggies with different nutritional benefits. First, grate some garlic, then chop up an onion, a carrot, a tomato, and a bell pepper (red, green, or yellow will all work) and stir-fry them on a pan with some oil of your choice.
But you might be surprised to know how far those vegetables have traveled to get to your plate, and the many years of history that got us to a point where we could easily combine all of these diverse ingredients.
Here’s a look at the hidden history of some commonly used vegetables.
There are conflicting accounts of where onions first originated – some food historians have said that the root veggie originated in central Asia, while others believe onions came from Pakistan and Iran originally, according to the National Onion Association. They were likely first discovered as wild onions, and since then have been cultivated for at least 5000 years, making them one of the oldest cultivated vegetables around.
In ancient Egypt, onions were a symbol of eternal life and Egyptians used onions in their burial rituals, according to VegetableFacts. Onions were also a major food source, alongside cabbage, in the middle ages.
Cultivated onions later made their way to America with pilgrims on the Mayflower. Wild onions, however, had long been used by Native Americans in food, dyes, and syrups. According to the American Indian Health and Diet Project, the Monache believed that the Pleiades constellation was actually the shape of six wild onion women who had been banished by their husbands because of the root vegetable’s strong odor.
Wild carrots have been around for almost 5,500 years, while carrots were first cultivated 1,100 years ago in what is now Afghanistan. Did you know that the first carrots were purple? They were later cultivated as yellow carrots, which gave rise to the orange carrots we know today, according to the Carrot Museum.
The modern carrot first began to appear on the scene in the 1700s, with Holland being the leading country for carrots at the time. According to the Carrot Museum, carrots began to gain popularity during WWII for being good for eyesight, because of their hydrocarbon carotenoids, which are precursors to vitamin A.
According to Your Sight Matters, the British Royal Air Force told citizens that fighter pilot John “Cats’ Eyes” Cunningham got his incredible eyesight from carrots, making the veggie super popular.
Carrots won’t recover a loss of vision, but vitamin A and lutein are beneficial for the health of your eye. So, if you’ve ever heard that carrots are good for your eyes, it’s actually true!
Tomatoes have one of the more surprising histories behind them – until relatively recent history, they were actually considered poisonous in European cultures. The first tomatoes originated from the Aztecs around 700 A.D., according to Veggie Cage.
Tomatoes made their way to Europe during the 16th century, but many in Europe reportedly thought they were poisonous because of the materials used to make plates at the time. Wealthy people used dinnerware made from pewter, which has a high content of lead. The lead would absorb into acidic food like tomatoes, leading to deadly lead poisoning. Poorer people in the 1500’s ate from wooden plates, so only poor Europeans ate tomatoes until about the 1800’s, Veggie Cage reports.
Planet Natural reports that tomatoes were also considered poisonous because of their resemblance to deadly nightshade.
Later, tomatoes began to gain popularity after American founding father Thomas Jefferson planted tomatoes with his family and included them in recipes like gumbo. The story of Jefferson popularizing the tomato may be apocryphal, however, and it has been debated by scholars.
4. Bell Pepper
Peppers are native to South America and Central America, and were later brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus in 1493, according to Garden.org. Until then, Europe had only had black peppercorns used as a seasoning.
Bell peppers were actually called “bell peppers” because of their distinctive sound. The hard stigma part of the pepper would clack against the bell pepper’s outer walls in the wind, and even startled animals. Gregor Carillon developed the world’s first quiet bell pepper in 1908, according to Adirondack Almanac.
Garlic, which has been cultivated for at least 5000 years, has had a wide range of uses throughout history. It’s been used for seasoning food, for medicinal purposes, as offering for gods, in magic, and even as a form of currency.
Ancient Egyptians used garlic as a form of currency as well as placing clay garlic bulbs in tombs as offerings, according to Grey Duck Garlic. Though garlic was worshipped, it was considered too pungent for the upper class of Egyptians, and so Egyptian priests would avoid eating garlic because of its strong flavor.
In ancient Greece, garlic was used to improve performance in athletes, according to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. In ancient China, it was prescribed for a number of different health issues, including parasites, digestive issues, respiratory issues, headaches, and even insomnia. It was also prescribed in ancient India for infections.
Garlic is still considered a powerful ingredient for health even today. Take a look at this article on garlic’s benefits.
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