The only organ of the plant that is adapted for animals to eat it is the fruit. In this episode we explore how fruits develop from a flower part, and how this development is coordinated by the plant along with the developing seed inside. We also explore the changes that occur as fruits ripen, and how those changes are regulated to maximize attraction to animals.
Potatoes are a major food crop, only topped by rice, wheat, and maize in terms of total global production, and are the most efficient in terms of total energy converted to calories of all crops. Let’s take a closer look at some details of the potato, including when and where it was domesticated and how it defends itself from animals.
Some of the foods we eat include molecules that don’t contribute taste or flavor to our food, but interact in our mouth to create other sensations. The two most common experiences like this are astringency, which is a sense of dryness or even puckering, and pungency, which we typically refer to as spicy-hot.
In addition to the “leafy greens” that we eat, there are a number of foods that are in our diet that may not strike you as a leaf at first glance. These are the modified leaves, and in this episode I walk through three examples of modified leaves that are commonly eaten.
The domestication of plants from their wild, ancestral form into a form that humans had selected for certain improvements is a fascinating and complex topic. Here we dive into the idea of domestication and think a little bit about what kinds of traits were selected by humans to turn wild plants into a form more suitable for cultivation.
The foods we eat and love are all characterized by the combination of tastes and aromas, which combine to form flavor. Tastes are perceived in our mouth through receptors on our taste buds, while aromas (smells) are detected at a structure deep inside our nose called the olfactory bulb. Both tissues have thousands of molecular receptors embedded that are triggered by the presence of a specific kind of molecule.
Almost all of the flavorings we add to our foods and dishes come from plants that make specific chemical compounds as protection against attack by animals. Many of the common cooking herbs come from just a couple of plant families that make groups of compounds in their leaves to protect them from grazing.
This episode explores how it is that lettuce and other leafy greens can be crispy, crunchy, and full of water when we bite into it. The secret, of course, is that plant cells are full of water, so full that it exerts a very high positive pressure inside the cell called turgor. The structure that allows for this very high pressure is the cell wall.
In this episode, we get into an overview of the organs that make up the body of the plant. We take a brief look at the relationship between form and function by thinking about the “job” of each of the organs and how its shape and properties allow it to be adapted to perform that function in the life of the plant.
In this episode I introduce some of the key characteristics and properties of plants that influence how they are used as food. The life forms of plants compared to animals, along with the evolutionary history that led to these characteristics, is a good place to start a study of plants as food.