The Neatest Little Paper Ever Read ®

Issue 974



by Janet Spencer

The word “vegetable” comes from the Latin “vegetabilis” meaning growing and flourishing. The word “fruit” comes from the Latin “fructus” denoting proceeds, profits, produce, and in-come. Come along with Tidbits as we consider where our fruits and veggies originated!


• Tomatoes originated in Peru. The name comes from the Aztec “xitomatl,” which means “plump thing with a navel.” They were often thought to be poisonous when introduced to areas outside of Peru, and it’s true that all parts of the tomato plant other than the fruit are indeed poisonous. The tipping point in their popularity came when pizza became popular. Today Americans consume 30 pounds (13.6 kg) of tomatoes per person, per year. Over half of that is in the form of processed tomato products such as ketchup and tomato sauce. Salsa recently outpaced ketchup in sales. California produces 96% of the tomatoes processed in the U.S.

• Carrots originated in the regions around Afghanistan. The first carrots that were grown were purple in color. Orange carrots later originated in Holland. Carotene is the chemical which makes carrots orange. If you ingest enough carotene, it will turn your skin a yellow-orange color.


• Potatoes originated in the Peruvian Andes. The Incas called them “batatas.” They were eating potatoes 2,000 years before Columbus set sail. There are over 5,000 kinds of potatoes growing in the Andes— so many types that the local language has 1,000 different words for potato. The Incas even measured time by how long it took a potato to cook. When the Spanish Conquistadors overran the land, they had never seen anything like the potato. They were forced to eat the strange new food when their own food supplies ran low. The potatoes they introduced to Europe turned out to be far more valuable than the gold that they killed for, but it took some doing to convince the European populace to try them out.

• Sweet potatoes, which originated in Central and South America, are a member of the morning glory family, which is a vine. They are not actually a type of potato at all. Potatoes are a member of the nightshade family, which is not a vine. Yams are from an African tropical vine that isn’t related to either the sweet potato or the potato but is related to lilies and grasses. Sweet potatoes have orange, red, or yellow skin and pale yellow flesh. True yams have a black or brown skin that looks like bark, and either white, purple, or red flesh. The word “yam” comes from an African word “njam” meaning “to eat.”


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