A BRIEF HISTORY OF VEGETABLES

By Tim Lambert

Artichokes

Artichokes are native to the Mediterranean. They were eaten by the Greeks and Romans and later by the Arabs. However after the fall of Rome artichokes were rare in Europe until the 15th century when they were grown in Italy. From there artichokes spread to the rest of Europe.

Asparagus

Asparagus is native to the Eastern Mediterranean region. Asparagus was grown by the Greeks and Romans and it became a popular vegetable in Europe in the 16th century.

Aubergine

Aubergines or eggplants are native to India. Later they spread to China and by the 15th century they were being grown in southern Europe.

Beetroot

Beetroot is descended from wild sea beet, which grew around Europe and Asia. Eating beetroot only really became popular in England in the 18th century.

Broad Beans

Broad beans are native to the Middle East and South Asia. They were known to the Ancient Greeks and they have been eaten in Europe ever since.

Broccoli

It is not known for certain when broccoli was first eaten. The Romans ate a vegetable that may have been broccoli. It was certainly eaten in France and Italy in the 16th century. Broccoli was introduced into in England in the 18th century. It first became popular in the USA in the 1920s.

Brussel sprouts

Brussels sprouts became popular in most of Europe in the 16th century. They became popular in England in the 17th century. Brussels sprouts were grown in the USA from the 19th century.

Butter Beans

Butter beans are native to Central America. They were first recorded in Europe in 1591.

Cabbages

Cabbages are native to southern Europe. They were grown by the Greeks and the Romans and in Europe they have been a popular vegetable ever since. Cabbages were brought to North America in the 16th century.

Carrots

Carrots are native to Asia and spread to the Mediterranean area. Carrots were grown in Europe in the Middle Ages they and have been popular ever since.

Cauliflower

Cauliflower is believed to come from Asia Minor. In Europe they were first eaten in Italy. However in the 16th century the cauliflower spread throughout Europe. Cauliflower was first grown in North America in the late 17th century.

Celery

Celery is native to the Mediterranean. Wild celery was known to the Greeks and Romans. However cultivation of celery only began in Europe in the 17th century.

Chickpeas

Chickpeas are native to the Middle East. They were popular with the Romans and they have been eaten in Europe ever since.

Chilies

Chilies are from Central America where they have been grown for thousands of years. The Aztecs were fond of chilies and the Spanish brought them back to Europe. Chilies came to England in 1548.

Cucumbers

Cucumbers are native to south Asia. They were grown by the Greeks and Romans. Cucumbers were also grown in England in the Middle Ages. The Spaniards introduced cucumbers into the New World in 1494.

Kidney Beans

Kidney Beans are native to South America. They were common in England by the mid-16th Century.

Leeks

Leeks are believed to be native to central Asia. They were grown by the Egyptians. The Greeks and Romans also grew leeks and the Romans are believed to have introduced them to Britain. The leek is the symbol of Wales. According to legend Welsh soldiers wore a leek in their caps to distinguish themselves from their Saxon enemies during a battle.

Lentils

Lentils are a very ancient vegetable. They have been eaten since prehistoric times. Lentils are native to Asia and they were eaten the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans. They were also eaten in India.

Lettuce

Lettuce is an ancient vegetable. It is native to the Mediterranean area. The Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans ate lettuce. The Spaniards took lettuce to the New World.

Olives

Olives are native to the Eastern Mediterranean and people have grown them since prehistoric times. Olives were very important to the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans.

Onions

It is not known for certain where onions come from but it was probably Asia. Onions were one of the first vegetables grown by people. They were eaten by the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans. During the Middle Ages onions were one of the staple foods of people in Europe.

Parsnips

Parsnips are thought to be native to the Mediterranean region. The Romans grew them and they were a popular vegetable in the Middle Ages. However in England parsnips became less popular once potatoes became common in the 18th century.

Peas

Peas are native to Asia and they were one of the earliest vegetables grown by human beings. The Greeks and Romans grew peas and during the Middle Ages peas were an important part of the diet of ordinary people in Europe.

Potatoes

Potatoes are native to South America and they were grown by the native people for thousands of years before Europeans discovered them. The Spaniards took potatoes to Europe in the 16th century and they were first introduced to England in 1586. However at first potatoes were regarded as a strange vegetable and they were not commonly grown in Europe until the 18th century. In the 1840s potatoes in Ireland were afflicted by potato blight and the result was a terrible famine as the people had come to rely on potatoes for their staple food.

Pumpkin

Pumpkins are native to central America. The Native Americans used them as a staple food. Pumpkins were adopted as a food by European colonists. Meanwhile Christopher Columbus brought pumpkin seeds to Europe.

Radish

Radishes are native to Asia. They were grown by the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans. Radishes were taken to the New World in the 16th century. The word radish comes from the Latin word radix, meaning root.

Runner beans

Runner beans are native to central America and were grown there long before they were discovered by Europeans in the 16th century. Runner beans were first grown in England in the 17th century.

Spinach

Spinach is native to Asia. However it was unknown to the Greeks and Romans. It was first grown in Persia. Later it was grown by both the Arabs and the Chinese. The Arabs introduced spinach to southern Europe and by the 14th century it was eaten in England.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are native to South America. The Spaniards came across them in the 16th century. However tomatoes were unknown in England until the end of the 16th century.

Turnips

Turnips are native to northern Europe. They were grown by the Romans and during the Middle Ages turnips were a staple food of poor people in Europe. In the 18th century Charles 'Turnip' Townshend pioneered growing turnips to feed cattle.

A history of fruit

A history of food

A history of herbs and spices

A history of sweets

A history of biscuits and cakes

A history of desserts

A history of condiments

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Last revised 2012

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