As human beings have evolved over time, so have their taste palates and food choices. There are many things in nature that are actually edible and have been consumed by our forefathers but forgotten over time. Or. on the other hand, there are some species of plants, flowers, and other food items that surround us and are used daily. but we ignore or throw them away. Here is a list of 11 strange things that are actually edible.
1. A rare Chinese delicacy, the edible bird’s nest is known for its flavor and high nutritional value. They are the most expensive animal product consumed by humans valued at $3,000 per pound.
The edible bird’s nest is the made out of swiftlets from a small bird found mostly in Southeast Asia. These swiftlets are made out of solidified saliva and are harvested for human consumption. They are highly prized in China, where they are coveted for their rarity and high nutritional value. They have been used in Chinese cooking for over 400 years and over time have gained in popularity.
Today, they are highly valued and are one of the most expensive animal products consumed by humans. They are valued at $3,000 per pound. There are different types of edible bird’s nests and their price varies based on the grade, color, and shape of the nest and type of bird. The nest is usually white in color, but sometimes a red one is found too and is named the “blood” nest.
Their most common use is for a soup preparation in Chinese culture. The soup has a delicate, gelatinous texture when dissolved in water. Although the swiftlets are expensive and precious, they must be served in large quantities in order to all an experience of its flavor in full. They are also cooked with rice or added to egg tarts and other deserts to add flavor. Bird’s nest jelly is also popular and is sold in jars commercially. (source)
2. Gold has been used in small quantities in deserts and food mainly for aesthetic reasons. Edible gold has to be pure and has the E-number E175 which permits its use. It is flavorless and has no nutritional value.
Gold leaf is a gold hammered into thin sheets which are then used in food. It is mostly used to add aesthetic value to the food and has no nutritional value or taste of its own. It was used for centuries in Japan pounded into its green tea. In Europe, tiny gold leaves have been used in liquors since the sixteenth century. In India, gold is sprinkled upon sweets making them an expensive delicacy during festive seasons and special occasions.
For the gold to be edible, it must be 23-24 carat and is not the same gold which we find at the jewelers that is mixed with other metals. So, when gold is used in food it has the E-number E175. E-numbers are codes for substances that are permitted to be used as food additives for use within the European Union. Scientifically, gold is chemically inert, which means it just passes through your body as waste and does not break down in digestion.
Gold is also used in medications, especially in a treatment for rheumatism. Some studies also show that it has anti-inflammatory properties. The consumption of gold and its effects on us is still under study, and so one must exercise caution while consuming it. (1, 2)
3. The cockscomb that adorns a chickens’ head is actually edible. It is used in French cuisine as a garnish and as an important ingredient for the famous Italian sauce, cibreo. It is also, served in dim-sums in China.
The fleshy growth or crest that adorns the gallinaceous bird, like the chicken, is called a “comb.” They are most commonly known as “cockscomb.” These are edible and used in cooking along with wattles and chicken kidneys. They have been used for a long time in French cooking as a garnish. They are usually used to prepare salpicons and as fillings in profiteroles. The cockscomb makes for an important ingredient in the Italian cuisine to prepare the famous sauce called “cibreo.” This is used as a sauce for preparing pasta and ricotta. They can be prepared by parboiling, skinning, and then poaching in broth called “court-bouillon.” The Chinese use it as a filling in their dim-sums. Although red in color, the cockscomb becomes greyish after cooking. (source)
4. Recently, cactus has become a new food trend. They are used in making jams, teas, and cocktails. It is full of antioxidants and good to reduce stress, fatigue, and blood-sugar levels.
Opuntia, a type of cactus plant, has gained popularity as a superfood in early 2018 in a part of the culinary world. But the fruit traditionally called the “nopales” has been a part of the Mexican food culture for hundreds of years. The fruit has a similar taste as the sour green beans. They can be eaten raw or boiled. Once the thorns and spines of the cactus are removed, it can be added into any preparation like stew, egg, or salad. They are prepared in many ways—grilled or served as pickled cactus fries.
Also, it is used to prepare jams, pickles, tea, candies, and cocktails. As a fruit, it has antioxidant properties and has good medicinal value. It is used to control blood-sugar levels, and reduce stress, intestinal issues, and headaches. Due to its growing popularity, the nopales are easily available at many Mexican stores online too. (1, 2)
5. A parasitic ascomycete fungus that grows on certain species of mushrooms gives it a red color on the outside which causes it to be named the “lobster mushroom fungus.” A fungus, not a mushroom, it is eaten widely and commercially marketed.
Scientifically classified as Hypomyces lactifluorum but widely known as Lobster Mushroom, it, unlike its name, is not a mushroom. It is a parasitic fungus that grows on the mushrooms. The ascomycete parasite transforms the exterior of its host, the mushroom, from white to a bright red or orange. Although they are a fungus, they are edible and widely enjoyed. They are also sold in packets at supermarkets around the world.
The lobster mushroom has been known to be consumed for hundreds of years without it being harmful. It is used in fish preparations or in a stew, and its crunchy texture adds to the flavor of the dish. Also, it can be used while preparing lobster chowder. (1, 2)
6. Cattails or bulrush are semi-aquatic, perennial plants and most parts are edible. Their starchy rhizomes are nutritious, and their narrow leaf shoots can be eaten raw. Their flowers can be eaten like corn-on-the-cob.
Scientifically called Typha, it is a common plant across the Northern Hemisphere. They are most commonly known as “cattails” or “bulrush.” It was discovered almost 30,000 years ago that the rhizomes of these plants were edible through the preserved starch grains found on the grinding stones in Europe. They are nutritious and have a high protein content. They are highly fibrous and the starch must be scrapped or sucked out from the rough fiber. However, one must be careful because if these are grown in polluted water, they can be infected with pesticides and lead and should not be consumed.
While the plant is young, the outer portion can be peeled and the heart can be eaten raw. The leaves too of the early ones can be eaten raw or cooked. Once the flower spike turns greenish, the sheath is removed and eaten like a corn cob. Also, its roots are edible and can be boiled, steamed, or fried. The pollen collected from the mature, male flower can be used as a flour supplement or thickener. (source)
7. The inner bark of most trees called “cambium” are edible. and they are rich in nutrients. They can be eaten raw, boiled, or fried. They are usually repurposed as a flour for baking and making loaves of bread.
The inner layer of the bark of the tree that lies between the hardwood and the rough outer bark called “cambium” is actually edible. It is that part of the trunk that is soft, moist, and growing healthy. The cambium of most trees is edible. It is greenish-yellow or yellow in color, and the cambium layer has medical benefits too. Beech-bark tea can help in curing lung problems. The apple tree bark is used to cure fever and diarrhea, while cedar barks are used to treat headaches, colds, and congestions.
They can be used in food preparation too. There are various ways one can consume this inner bark of the tree. It can be used to prepare bark tea. It can be chewed raw like gum or grated it into strips, fried, and eaten crunchy. They can also be boiled to soften the texture and then tapped for its juices. However, it is most widely used in its powdered form which is used for making loaves of bread or baking much like a flour. Mostly a survival food, too much consumption of cambium can lead to stomach upset, so it’s advised to have it in moderation. (1, 2)
8. Kudzu is a flowering vine that grows abundantly in Japan and Southeast Asia. Its root contains starch which is used in baking, and its flowers are used to make jelly. It is a medicinal herb too.
Kudzu is a vine on trellises and a common sight in Asia and the Pacific islands are actually edible and relished. It is called the “Japanese arrow” and is used widely in its cuisine. Its roots contain starch that is used as a food ingredient in most of East Asia. They can be used as a substitute for cornstarch and also as a sauce thickener. Their flowers are used to make jelly. Also, the kudzu vine has been used in East Asia for centuries to make herbal tea.
It has many medicinal properties too and has its uses in Chinese medicines. Its roots, flowers, and leaves are used to make medicines. It can treat simple symptoms like dizziness, hangover, and vomiting, and is also used in treatments of chest pain, high blood pressure, and irregular heartbeat. Kudzu can help cure flu, the common cold, and even swine flu. (1, 2)
9. Dandelions found in abundance are actually edible, and their leaves are used in salads. They are rich in Vitamins A, C, K and are a good source of iron, calcium, and potassium. However, they should be grown organically if they are intended to be used for food.
Dandelions are a part of the Taraxacum, a large genus of flowering plants. They are wildflowers found in abundance in Europe and the USA and are entirely edible. The roots, flowers, stems, and leaves of dandelions are edible. This short-lived plant’s leaves are blanched to remove bitterness or sauteed as we do with spinach to maximize its flavor. Its flower petals are used to make dandelion wine, and its roots are roasted to prepare caffeine-free, dandelion coffee. Besides the above, in Britain, dandelion was used to make a soft drink called “Dandelion and Burdock.” Also, the elite of the Victorian era used dandelions in their sandwiches and salads.
Dandelion leaves contain Vitamins A, C, K and a are a good source of calcium, potassium, and iron. The flowers contain a high level of antioxidants and are used as an anti-inflammatory. Dandelion has many medical properties and is used to prepare medicines too. For over a thousand years, it has been used as a medical plant to treat inflammation, sore throat, cysts, and abscess. It is commercially cultivated for its uses, but the wild-growing ones are considered as a nuisance. (source)
10. Powdered eggshells are not only edible but a great source of calcium and other elements like strontium and fluorine. Studies show that it helps to reduce osteoporosis, pain, and increases mobility and bone density.
Eggs are known to be the best source of calcium and are used widely. However, the eggshells too have immense calcium and are used in powdered form for consumption. The grounded eggshell is a useful source of calcium and other essential elements like strontium and fluorine. It has medical benefits too.
An experimental and clinical study performed on postmenopausal women and those with osteoporosis showed that the use of powdered eggshell helped to reduce the pain, bone loss, and improved bone density and mobility. The powdered eggshells can be sprinkled on food like pizza and pasta too to improve its edibility and taste. (1, 2)
11. Rich in potassium and other vitamins and minerals, chrysanthemum leaves and flowers are edible and make for a good salad, herbal tea, and wine too.
Chrysanthemums derive their name from the Greek word crysos, meaning gold, and anthemon, which means flower. They originated and are found in abundance in East Asia. Along with its aesthetic beauty, these flowers can be consumed too. The yellow- and white-flowered chrysanthemums are used to make traditional Chinese tea. In South Korea, the flowers are used to make wine. Its leaves, too, are edible and are used widely in Chinese cuisines either steamed or boiled. Also, the Japanese use these flowers as a garnish in sashimi.
It also has many medical properties too. The flower is used to treat chest pain and high blood pressure. It is also used to soothe our senses and helps with healing tiredness, headache, and dizziness. (1, 2)