You won't believe what some foods look like before they hit your farmers' market
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Several thousand years before it became the nutritional darling du jour, quinoa was highly revered by the ancient Incas, whose name for the seed meant "the mother of all grains." The crops thrive in high altitudes and grow on bright magenta stalks that can reach 9 feet high, with large seedheads that range in color from red or purple to green or yellow.
RELATED: 10 New Ways to Eat Quinoa
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The almond tree bursts with pretty pale pink blossoms in early spring, yielding a crop of hard-shelled fruits with the edible almond seed inside. Mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible, almonds are considered to be among the earliest cultivated foods in human history. These nutritional all-stars were treated as fine delicacies by the ancient Romans, who would shower newlyweds with the nuts, which were thought to be fertility charms.
Cocoa (Dark Chocolate)
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The ancient Mayan name for cocoa, theobroma, means "food of the gods"—which modern-day chocoholics would feel is an accurate description for the sweet treat. According to the International Cocoa Organization, although 75 percent of the world's cocoa is produced in Africa, the entire continent consumes only about 3 percent of the supply.
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This name of this super-healthy side is misleading, as sweet potatoes aren't technically potatoes, but rather engorged storage roots. "Yam" is another misnomer—that name came about when African slaves in the antebellum South called sweet potatoes "nYami" because they reminded them of the tubers from their homeland, but those huge starchy roots grown in Africa and Asia and are rarely found in American supermarkets.
Photo courtesy of UMass.edu
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The bright blue flowers of the flax plant add beauty to the landscapes of in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana. While most of us think of adding the seeds to oatmeal or drizzling the oil on salad, flaxseed is also used as an ornamental plant and in wood finishers and linen fabrics.
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A cashew is technically not a nut but instead a seed that's attached to a "fruit" called a cashew apple. Part of the same family as poison ivy and poison sumac, the cashew plant contains powerful chemical irritants that are often sold for use in industrial paints, lacquers, and even brake linings. When cashews are harvested, workers wearing protective eye masks separate seeds from the poisonous shells, and the cashews are roasted at extremely high temperatures to destroy any potential irritants.
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California provides about 90 percent of the U.S. crop of avocados, which are actually fruits, not vegetables. A single tree can produce around 500 avocados a year, and on Cinco de Mayo, Americans inhale approximately 14 million pounds of the green flesh.
RELATED: 6 Fresh Ways to Eat Avocados
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Unlike the majority of vegetables, asparagus is a perennial plant that goes dormant in the winter. White asparagus, a less common variety than green, can be created if the plant is mounded with dirt while growing. This deprives the stalks of light and hinders the plant's ability to produce chlorophyll, resulting in the pale-colored stalks, which have a milder flavor than the green variety and are the preferred shade in Europe.
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Celery was a superstar in ancient Greece, receiving a shoutout in Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey." The veggie was value by the Greeks for medicinal and ceremonial purposes, such as draping the leaves as laurels around the shoulders of champion athletes. As a food, celery was not popular until the 18th century, when it was eaten in Europe before its importation to America in the 19th century.
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Coffea arabica, the variety that accounts for 75 to 80 percent of the world's coffee production, produces small, white, highly fragrant flowers as a mature plant. The petals fall off within a few days, and then the berries—which turn from dark green to yellow to light red and finally to a glossy, deep red as they ripen—appear. Inside of the berries is the coffee bean, which is actually a seed. Once shipped, the beans are roasted at 500 degrees until they "pop," doubling in size to look like the typical roasted coffee beans.
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The cruciferous veggie that used to make everyone's nose wrinkle is now one of the hottest (and healthiest) menu items at restaurants all over the country. Brussels sprouts are nutritional powerhouses, loaded with vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants. If you see the sprouts on the stalk at your local market or grocery store, toss a couple in your cart and put them in water in your fridge—they'll stay fresher for longer before they're broken off.
Photo: Getty Images