Arxiu d'etiquetes: flowers

Flowers in the kitchen

Although flowers can be part of our diet, there are the plants parts less considered in gastronomy. Apart from providing color and beauty to our meals, flowers can enrich our diet with different nutrients and textures. In this post, we talk about what kind of flowers are used in different cultures kitchens and what benefits they can bring.

ROOT, STEM OR LEAVE EATING?

Maybe you have never asked yourself about what part of the plant you are eating when you consume a potato, a lettuce, a tomato or a sunflower seed but all cited vegetables are different plant organs with distinct properties and functions. Potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, beets and mandioques are roots or tubers and contribute our organism with many nutrients. One of the functions of the roots is to accumulate reserves for the leaves and flowers development, so these organs constitute a valuable source of high-energy carbohydrates and vitamins. On the other hand, the greenest and crispiest vegetables in our diet like lettuce, spinach and chard are leaves and its function is to do the photosynthesis. His contribution to our diet is very beneficial because they contain lots of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Following our plant tour we can continue with fruits, sometimes called vegetables such as tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, eggplants and beans. The fruits include highly rich nutrients because have their function is to accumulate nutrients for seed germination. They contain fiber, sugars, minerals and a large intake of vitamins. Finally, many also consume seeds and nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, pine nuts and peanuts. These feed us with beneficial fats and essential amino acids, fiber and vitamins.

There are other plants parts less frequently consumed, but all plant organs can have a profit! The stem or trunk is usually too fibrous and hard to eat although some species are made of trunk such as cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum).

And flowers? What role do they have in our diet? The showy and most ephemeral plants part have been used throughout history and cultures to feed us or their uses are limited to ornamentation?

EATING FLOWERS

In fact, we regularly consume flowers although perhaps we do not perceive. In the Mediterranean diet, one of the most popular vegetable is a flower: the artichoke (Cynara scolymus) is an inflorescence from which we only consume the basis of the floral bracts and the receptacle when it is not yet mature. Also capers (Capparis spinosa) are buds used in vinegar in the preparation of many Mediterranean dishes. When you eat broccoli or cauliflower (Brassica oleracea) you are also eating the immature flowers of these plants.

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Capers buds to consume and an open caper flower. Source: PresidenciaRD by Flickr.

Another common flower in the Mediterranean, with a very special taste is Aphyllanthes monspeliensis. Its flowers are very sweet and is a delight to eat them while you walk through the countryside. Also elder flowers (Sambucus nigra) are used to prepare delicious and very aromatic bunyols at Spain. The elder flowers are anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and diuretic and they act against colds, fever and bronchitis.

In other cultures, the flowers are used for flavoring desserts and sweets. For example at Turkey and Iran, rose water (Rosa sp.) is used to make the famous lokum or Turkish delight.

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Turkish delights aromatized with rose water. Source: Pinterest.

Other flowers used in infusion are hibiscus flowers (Hibiscus sabdariffa). Only sepals are used to prepare an iced tea with diuretic properties, very popular in Jamaica but also common in Mexico and other countries in Central America.

Hibiscus_sabdariffa_dried
Hibiscus dried sepals. Source: Commons Wikimedia.

The violet flower (Viola odorata) is also very sweet and aromatic. It is used to make a famous candy from Madrid, manufactured from 1915, with calming properties. Viola flowers can also be sued to make pies, jellies and ice cream.

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Violet candies typical from Madrid. Source: morenisa.blogspot.com.

The zucchini flowers (Cucurbita pepo) after the stamens have been removed, are used in Italy for a very original pizzas. Similarly, in Greece and Turkey, they eat pumpkin flowers (Cucurbita maxima) batted or stuffed and fried. They are also used in Mexico to make quesadillas.

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Zucchini flowers pizza. Source: Gourmand Asia.

Flowers have been used at kitchen from Roman and Greeks time. They used flowers in salads, like mallow (Malva sylvestris), that has soothing and healing properties in infusion.

Flowers add color, texture and beauty to our meals while they can also provide taste contrasts, as they are not always sweet and soft. For example, cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) and nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), both edible flowers have a spicy taste and borage (Borago officinalis) reminds cucumber and can be used in salads, soups or drinks. The chives flowers (Allium schoenoprasum) are often used to add a very special taste of garlic at salads and soups.

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Nasturtium flower. Source: David Goehring by Flickr.
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Borage flower. Source: Commons Wikimedia.

Some spices come from flowers or organs flower. Saffron (Crocus sativa) is the female organ (style and stigma) of this species bloom, giving color and flavor to spanish paellas. Its cultivation is extremely delicate and expensive: 200 thousand of flowers or 600 thousand of pistils are needed to produce 1 kg of saffron. Spain is the world’s largest producer. Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum), originally from Indonesia, are in fact dried buds of a tree that can reach 12 m high. Its strong smell can help in producing a natural insecticide prepared with cloves infusioned with distilled water and alcohol.

safrà Pixabay
Saffron flowers with its typical red pistils. Source: pixabay.

Maybe not all the flowers mentioned are affordable but we encourage you to include flowers in your meals while learning more about plants cooking them.

REFERENCES

Graziano, X. 2010. Almanaqueo do Campo. Panda Books, Sao Paulo, Brasil.

Laia-anglès

Anuncis

Flowers wearing turban, the Tulip fever

The spring beginning has allowed some of you to enjoy the beautiful colours of those flowers that have already bloomed. This time I’m going to talk about one of the most colourful, simple, but wonderful flowers you probably already will have had the opportunity to observe in many gardens or in nature. It is the tulip. Besides introduce you this plant, in this article I will make a more detailed description of its morphological parts. I think it’s a good example to start learning vocabulary, because its structure is quite clear and simple. Therefore, if you are interested in learning some technical vocabulary, now it’s a perfect chance. But, do not think I’m just going to talk about the technical aspects, because reading this article you will also be able to learn the history behind the tulips. And as you will see, these flowers caused a good fever!

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Artistic image of several tulips (Photo taken by Adriel Acosta).

 INTRODUCTION

The tulips (Tulipa sp.) are flowers that when are closed seem a turban. This plants have been very popular and well-known for very long time, because of its high ornamental interest.

Its genus is distributed in the central and western Asia, in the Mediterranean and in Europe. It is known that its origin belongs to the centre of Asia and, from there, their distribution has been expanded naturally and by human actions. And, although about 150 species are known in the nature, human intervention has greatly increased the species list. Caused both by hybridization (forcing the offspring of two interesting species) and by selective breeding (choosing the offspring which has more value).

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Tulip crop in Amsterdam (Photo taken by Rob Young). 

 THE TULIP FEVER

As already mentioned above, tulips are one of the most ornamental plants used, both in decoration as in landscaping. And while the tulip crop is rather old, the boom occurred in Europe during the seventeenth century. Giving rise to what is known as Tulip mania or the Tulip fever. In those moments, especially in Netherlands and France, a high interest in the cultivation of these plants awoke. The fever was so great that people were selling goods of all kinds to buy tulip bulbs, even reaching up to sell the most valued as the house or farm animals.

The cause of this was originated in the Netherlands, where the single-coloured tulip bulbs were being sold at that time. But afterwards, the Eastern bulbs that give rise to flowers with variegated colours appeared. And they were very attractive. Although the cause was uncertain in that moment, it was known that if a single-coloured bulb touched other marbled-coloured bulb, the first one would turned into a marbled-coloured bulb. This caused the tulip’s price began to increase and soon after occurred the first speculative bubble in history.

Nowadays, we know that the cause is due to a virus which is transmitted from some bulbs to others; this virus is known as Tulip breaking virus.

Semper Augustus Tulip 17th century
Anonymous gouache on paper drawing, 17th century, of the “Semper Augustus”. A representation of one of the most popular tulips which was sold at record price in Netherlands (Public Domain).

MORPHOLOGICAL CHARACTERS

 The plant

 Tulips are geophytes, that is, they have resistance bodies underground to survive during unfavourable seasons, the winter. These organs are bulbs, which have been used on crops to preserve these plants.

Its leaves are linear or linear-lanceolate, i.e., they are long, narrow and acute. Parallel venation can be observed on its leaves, so a nerve is by side other and with the same direction. Their arrangement is usually in rosette: this means that the leaves are born agglomerated in the bottom of the plant above the bulb, and at the same level. Even so, you can sometimes see some leaves along the stem, cauline ones. These are sessile, without petiole, and wrap a little the stem.

To cultivate tulips, we can use their bulbs or fruits. These seconds are capsules, a dried fruits, opened due the action of some valves. At first, the seeds are hooked inside these capsules and then are released and distributed on the environment.

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Tulip (Photo taken by Adriel Acosta).

The flowers

Tulips appear in early spring, due they are plants adapted to very dry Mediterranean climate or cold areas.

As you have seen, the flowers are solitary or appear to 3 gathered in one stem. They are usually large and showy, hermaphrodite, therefore, they have both male and female reproductive organs, and are actinomorphous, that is, they can be divided symmetrically for more than two planes of symmetry.

These flowers have 3 inner tepals and 3 external that are free among them, without being bound or fused. We talk about tepals when the sepals (calyx pieces) and petals (corolla parts) are similar between them. In this case, the tepals are petaloid, because they adopt typical colours and shapes of the petals.

In the inner part of the flower, we can see 6 stamens divided equally into 2 whorls; being these two closely spaced between them, so they seem to arise from the same point. And right in the centre, surrounded by these stamens, there is the gynoecium, female part of the flower. This gynoecium consists of the ovary and 3 stigmas attached to this directly. The stigmas are this part of female reproductive organs where it should arrive pollen to fertilize the ovaries.

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Parts of tulip flower: 1. Sepal, 2. Petal, 3. Stamen, 4. Female reproductive organ (ovary and 3 stigmas) (Photo taken by Adriel Acosta).

 As you have seen in this article, some flowers have caused curious stories and a great impact on our society. Also, you have had the opportunity to observe in detail the tulip’s structure. One more time, I wish you liked it.

Difusió-anglès

REFERENCES

  • A. Aguilella & F. Puche. 2004. Diccionari de botànica. Colleció Educació. Material. Universitat de València: pp. 500.
  • Bolòs, J. Vigo, R. M. Masalles & J. M. Ninot. 2005. Flora manual dels Països catalans. 3ed. Pòrtic Natura, Barcelona: pp. 1310.
  • Notes of Phanerogamae and Applied Plant Physiology, Degree of Environmental Biology, Ambiental, UAB
  • F. Schiappacasse. Cultivo del tulipan. http://www2.inia.cl/medios/biblioteca/seriesinia/NR21768.pdf
  • Fundación para la Innovación Agraria; Ministerio de Agricultura. 2008. Resultados y Lecciones en Tulipán. Proyecto de Innovación en XII Región de Magallanes. Flores y FOllajes/ Flores de corte (11).

The secret life of bees

If we talk about bees, the first thing that comes to mind might be the picture of a well-structured colony of insects flying around a honeycomb made of perfectly constructed wax cells full of honey.

But the truth is that not all bees known nowadays live in hierarchical communities and make honey. Actually, most species of bees develop into a solitary life-form unlike the classical and well-known honey bees (which are so appreciated in beekeeping).

Through this article, I’ll try to sum up the different life-forms of bees in order to shed light on this issue.

INTRODUCTION

Bees are a large diverse group of insects in Hymenoptera order, which also includes wasps and ants. To date, there are up to 20,000 species of bees known worldwide, although there could be more unidentified species. They can be found in most habitats with flowering plants located in every continent of the world (except for the Antarctica).

Bees pick up pollen and nectar from flowers to feed themselves and their larvae. Thanks to this, they contribute on boosting the pollination of plants. Thus, these insects have an enormous ecological interest because they contribute to maintain and even to enhance flowering plant biodiversity on their habitats.

Specimen of Apis mellifera or honey bee (Picture by Leo Oses on Flickr)

However, even though the way they feed and the sources of food they share could be similar, there exist different life-forms among bees which are interesting to focus on.

BEE LIFE-FORMS

SOLITARY BEES (ALSO KNOWN AS “WILD BEES”)

Most species of bees worldwide, contrary to the common knowledge, develop into a solitary life-form: they born and grow alone, they mate once when groups of male and female bees meet each other and, finally, they die alone too. Some solitary bees live in groups, but they never cooperate with each other.

Female of solitary life-form bees build a nest without the help of other bees. Normally, this kind of nest is composed by one or more cells, which are usually separated by partition walls made of different materials (clay, chewed vegetal material, cut leaves…). Then, they provide these cells with pollen and nectar (the perfect food for larvae) and, finally, they lay their eggs inside each cell (normally one per cell). Contrary to hives, these nests are often difficult to find and to identify with naked eyes because of its discreetness.

The place where solitary bees build their nest is highly variable: underground, inside twisted leaves, inside empty snail shells or even inside pre-established cavities made by human or left behind by other animals.

These bees don’t make hives nor honey, so these are probably the main reasons because of what they are less popular than honey bees (Apis mellifera). Although solitary bees are the major contributors on pollination due to their abundance and diversity (some of them are even exclusive pollinators of a unique plant species, which reveals a close relation between both organisms), most of the studies related with bees are focused on honey bees, because of what studies and protection of these solitary life-forms still remain in the background.

There exists a large diversity of solitary bees with different morphology:

3799308298_ff9fbb1bcc_n7869021238_a811f13aa4_n1) Specimen of Andrena sp. (Picture by kliton hysa on Flickr). 
2) Specimen of Xylocopa violacea or violet carpenter bee (Picture by Nora Caracci fotomie2009 on Flickr).
3) Specimen of Anthidium sp. (Picture by Rosa Gambóias on Flickr).

There are also parasite life-forms among solitary bees, that is, organisms that benefit at the expense of another organism, the host; as a result, the host is damaged in some way. Parasitic bees take advantage of other insects’ resources and even resources from other bees causing them some kind of damage. This is the case of Nomada sp. genus, whose species lay their eggs inside other bee nests (that is, their hosts), so when they hatch, parasite larvae will eat the host’s resources (usually pollen and nectar) leaving them without food. Scientists named this kind of parasitism as cleptoparasitism (literally, parasitism by theft) because parasitic larvae steal food resources from the host larvae.

PSEUDOSOCIAL BEES

From now on, we are going to stop talking about solitary bees and begin to introduce the pseudosocial life-forms, that is, bees that live in relatively organized and hierarchical groups which are less complex than truly social life-forms, also known as eusocial life-forms (which is the case of Apis mellifera).

Probably, the most famous example is the bumblebee (Bombus sp.). These bees live in colonies in which the queen or queens (also known as fertilized females) are the ones who survive through the winter. Thus, the rest of the colony dies due to cold. So is thanks to the queen (or queens) that the colony can arise again the next spring.

5979114946_9d491afd84_nSpecimen of Bombus terrestris or buff-tailed bumblebee(Picture by Le pot-ager "Je suis Charlie" on Flickr).

EUSOCIAL BEES

Finally, the most evolved bees known nowadays in terms of social structure complexity are eusocial bees or truly social bees. Scientist have identified only one case of eusocial bee: the honey bee or Apis mellifera.

Since the objective of this article was to refute the “all bees live in colonies, build hives and make honey” myth, I will not explain further than the fact these organisms form complex and hierarchical societies (this constitutes a strange phenomenon which has also been observed in thermites and ants) normally led by a single queen, build large hives formed of honeycombs made of wax, and make honey, a very energetic substance highly appreciated by humans.

Specimens of Apis mellifera on a honeycomb full of honey (Picture by Nicolas Vereecken on Flickr).

As we have been seeing, solitary bees play an important role in terms of pollination, because of what they must be more protected than they currently are. However, honeybees, and not solitary bees, still remain being on the spotlight of most scientists and a great part of society because of the direct resources they provide to humans.

REFERENCES

  • Notes taken during my college practices at CREAF (Centre de Recerca Ecològica i d’Aplicacions Forestals – Ecological Research and Forest Applications Centre). Environmental Biology degree, UAB (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona).
  • O’toole, C. & Raw A. (1999) Bees of the world. Ed Blandford
  • Pfiffner L., Müller A. (2014) Wild bees and pollination. Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL (Switzerland).
  • Solitary Bees (Hymenoptera). Royal Entomological Society: http://www.royensoc.co.uk/insect_info/what/solitary_bees.htm
  • Stevens, A. (2010) Predation, Herbivory, and Parasitism. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):36

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