Everyone knows what a vegetable looks like and can name a dozen without having to strain the brain: broccoli, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, etc. However, a tuber may not be as well known. A tuber is an underground plant part, usually a stem or a root, that swells as it stores nutrients for the next season's growth. Some tubers double as vegetables. These are the so-called "root" vegetables, like potatoes, that grow underground and must be dug out when it is time to harvest.
Meet the Tuber Vegetables
What are tuber vegetables? You may know this class of veggie as root vegetables. They are plants that grow big, edible, bulblike underground stems or roots. These tubers have lots of nutrients, but they are often fat-free and low in calories. Mature tubers can be dug out of the soil, washed, cooked, and eaten. They can also be stored dry and unpeeled for several weeks.
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In addition to being edible vegetables, tubers are also used to grow new plants. For example, a potato is the classic example of a tuber vegetable, and cut up potato pieces or seed potatoes, each with an eye or two, are planted to grow next year's potato crop.
Recognize Familiar Tuber Vegetables
While everyone knows that the potato is a root vegetable, there are other tuber vegetables that are common and popular. Carrots are one example. They grow underground with the carrot greens as the above-ground portion of the plant. The same is true of beets, onions, leeks, sweet potatoes, ginger, jicama, and yams.
Many of the greens of tuber vegetables, including carrot greens and beet greens, are delicious and nutritious as well. Cooks often toss carrot greens into the pot when making broth, and beet greens can be cooked like any leafy green vegetable.
Explore Less-Familiar Tuber Veggies
Are you ready to take a vegetable adventure? Go ahead and try some of the many tuber vegetables that are not commonly eaten in the United States. They are fun to grow at home and are delicious when roasted.
Why not start with taro? This tuber vegetable grows foliage that looks like the ears of an elephant and is sometimes called malanga or cocoyam. Its tuber is a long tube that is bigger than a potato. It can be baked, mashed, fried, or boiled.
With a name like cushcush, it must be a tropical plant — and it is. Cushcush is a tropical vine that grows from edible tubers, but they aren't ready to harvest for almost a year. The flesh of the tubers can be white, purple, or yellow and is usually eaten mashed or baked.