These days, fruits and vegetables are celebrated for so much more than the fact that they’re good for us. While their nutritional values generally remain the same, depending on the time of the year and when they’re in the peak of their season, our thoughts on how best to enjoy fruits and vegetables and what else they can bring to our tables are constantly evolving.
As avid cooks we look at ingredients as a means to an end, and that end can be anything from nutrition and energy to satisfaction, taste, and beauty. Because all of these things are so important to us when preparing a meal, we decided to judge fruits and vegetables not just by how good they are for us, but also by where they stand in the other categories that are important for a cook to consider.
Take appearance, for example, because we as humans begin to eat with our eyes, not our mouths. Just because a vegetable tastes delicious doesn’t mean it’ll look appetizing. Or consider a plant's genetic makeup; is it tough and fibrous and will it require a large amount of time braising, or would it taste the best it possibly could picked fresh from the ground or off the vine? Last but not least is how something tastes, because at the end of the day, there’s no greater factor for a cook to keep in mind.
Thankfully for us, somebody already started our research for us. Award-winning food columnist and author of 50 Best Plants on the Planet, Cathy Thomas, didn’t just think about why fruits and vegetables are good for us, but she explored how they could be. When looking at the 50 most nutritionally dense fruits and vegetables, Thomas doesn’t just outline specific reasons why these plants are good for us in her book, but she gives us some great tips and recipes for how to enjoy them, too.
With the nutrition part already done for us, we chose 20 plants from her book — fruits and vegetables, familiar and unexpected — and asked her to rank them based on their nutritional density. Once their rankings were in place, we scored them based on their look, ease of cooking, and taste, and combined that with their nutritional score to give you the 20 most nutritious, most beautiful, most convenient, and most delicious fruits and vegetables on the planet.
Although she didn't help us rank the plants based on the other categories (she compared the task of ranking them based on their looks as having to rank her children), Thomas agreed with our methodology. We already know that these fruits and vegetables are good for us, so now we’re judging them based on other factors that are important to cooks.
When you look at Thomas’ list of the most nutritious fruits and vegetables, you’ll see that all of the vegetables, except for beets, rank above fruit. Consider the beauty or flavor of a strawberry, though, and you’ll see that it easily rises to the top. In the same vein, some of the most nutritious plants on the list, such as curly endive, don’t exactly taste that great on their own, but thankfully for us Thomas has some suggestions on how best to enjoy them. These fruits and vegetables are the best of the best, and our carefully crafted competition helps you appreciate these nutritious foods for all they can be.
Anne Dolce is the Cook editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @anniecdolce