Don't you just love looking at all the crazy, beautiful "ugly" heirloom veggies at the farmers market? Their range of colors and imperfect shapes is totally fascinating. Generally, an heirloom vegetable is a variety that is at least 50 years old and grown from seeds passed down through several generations of farmers. Open-pollination (the seeds produce their own offspring plants) is the hallmark of most heirlooms, unlike hybrid veggies and fruits, which are born out of a merger of two different species such as the pluot which came to life when a plum was mixed with an apricot.
In response to consumer demand, many types of heirloom tomatoes and other veggies like carrots, pumpkins and beets have been cropping up at farmers’ markets, in restaurants, in our Lithe Foods fridges, and even in the produce section of some supermarket chains. Here’s why you should embrace the imperfect shapes and colors of sun-kissed heirlooms, which are now in peak season and in most of our Lithe Foods:
Awesome Taste As a farmer's daughter, I know all about the beauty and great taste of what farmers call "seconds." and while much of the "perfect" looking produce at the supermarket is selected based on its resistance to disease, ease of transport, and uniformity in appearance as opposed to good taste, heirlooms are the true taste of summer. Commercially grown vegetables and fruits are usually picked while still in their under-ripe state and then artificially ripened, leaving them with a bland, empty taste. Locally grown heirlooms are almost universally harvested when ripe and then sold shortly afterward, giving them the distinct and intoxicating flavors that are always worth the yearlong wait. And, the uglier the heirloom, the tastier it tends to be.
Amazing Nutrition While research comparing nutrient levels of heirlooms to garden-variety vegetables is unknown, many nutritionists believe in the nutritional power of vegetables that are allowed to ripen naturally, as opposed to being picked while still unripe and boxed up for (sometimes international) transport. Plus, selecting more ripe produce at the market will increase the diversity of your diet, which will expose you to a greater number of disease-fighting compounds.
Support local Farmers Since heirlooms are more likely to be grown and sold by small-scale farmers instead of big agriculture, filling your bowl with Sungold tomatoes and blue corn is a great way to support local growers and your local economy. And that better-tasting food doesn’t require a sizable shot of petroleum to get to your dining table from who knows where. However, keep in mind that heirloom and organic are not always synonymous. If you’re trying to remove any pesticides from your meal plan, you’ll need to query heirloom farmers about their growing practices.
Crop Diversity Think lean, local and seasonal. America’s agricultural landscape is being taken over by huge monocrop farms producing just a handful of items, usually soy, genetically modified corn and wheat, which is mostly used to fatten up cows and us as well in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. By making it a point to put aside more of your grocery budget for time-honored heirlooms that are not suited to large-scale production, you’ll do your part to help encourage botanical diversity and help keep old veggie varieties around. Not just tomatoes, the heirloom world also includes carrots, hot peppers, eggplant, corn, beets, and leafy greens.
Image via Etsy