Food for thought

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Pontiac Perspective by Peter Gauthier


Pontiac Perspective by Peter Gauthier

Among the many plants in our diets, legumes should play an important role; they are a significant source of protein, fibre, and dietary minerals, and contain no cholesterol and little fat or sodium. Common legumes include lentils, chickpeas, and kidney beans, but many people don’t know that peanuts are not nuts, but rather legumes. Also of note: peanut butter was invented in 1884 in Canada by Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Montreal.
Another group of plants we enjoy for their taste and nutritional value are fruits and berries.  For most, a fruit is the edible reproductive body of a seed plant. Berries are fruit, but they have a juicy pulp surrounding the seed or seeds. However, botanists have managed to come up with a more complex definition. What in ordinary conversation is referred to as fruit and berry, botanists have decided to turn into a six-fold definition, three for berries and three for fruit. A true berry is a simple fruit created from a single ovary. Examples are blueberries, gooseberries and tomatoes (yes, a tomato is a fruit, specifically a berry and not a vegetable).
To accommodate a finer distinction among berries, there are two additional sub-categories: pepo – berries whose skin has hardened, and hesperidium – berries with a rind and juicy interior. Examples of pepos are cucumber, melon, bananas, and pumpkin.  Examples of hesperidium include grapefruit, lemons, limes, and oranges.
The three categories for fruit are: aggregate fruit, multiple fruit, and accessory fruit.  Aggregate fruits form from single flowers that have multiple carpels not joined together (blackberries and raspberries). A multiple fruit is one formed from a cluster of flowers.  Each flower produces a single fruit, but these mesh together into a single mass. Figs and mulberries fit here. Accessory fruits come about when some or all of the edible part is not generated by the ovary. Apples and strawberries are representative of this group.
What about rhubarb? It’s classified as a vegetable, not a fruit.
For most people, a classification that puts strawberries in the same class as apples (with a very distinct class from blueberries), and that classifies peanuts different from cashews seems odd and unnatural. And so it is, except to botanists. What is more important is that we identify nutritional and tasty foods as we enjoy our meals.