It’s fall and that means harvest season is upon us. Head to any local farmer’s market and you’ll see a cornucopia of produce in an assortment of shapes, colors and sizes.
You will also see some vegetable names that would never make it past the first cut of brand development exercises. They’re either too difficult to spell, too obscure or just plain weird. They fail the considerations for a good brand or product name that we shared about a month ago.
Though their everyday names are acceptable to us now, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider alternatives. After all, it wasn’t very long ago that the California Dried Plum Board (formerly the California Prune Board) attempted to rebrand prunes as, well, dried plums to combat the perception of prunes as a bad tasting laxative. The move hasn’t gained much momentum, but that does not preclude other name-challenged produce from giving it a go.
Brussels’ Sprouts. The origin of the name dates back to the 13th century when they were cultivated extensively in – surprise! – Belgium. Eight centuries later, the edible sprouts are still associated with their presumed region of origin. But let’s face it: Belgium is better known for its chocolate and Trappist ales than its compact, leafy greens. It’s time we give it a more appropriate name: baby cabbage.
Recipe: Pare the stem of each baby cabbage then cut them in half lengthwise. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in an oven-proof skillet. Put the veggies cut side down into the hot oil until they brown thoroughly. Once brown, turn them flat side up like a turtle on its back. Put the pan into a 375-degree oven and roast for 20 minutes until soft. Remove from oven (with an oven mitt!) and splash with a tablespoon of high quality balsamic vinegar (black fig balsamic if you have it) and a bit of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Brace your knees for weakness.
Zucchini. The much-maligned early-autumn summer squash is known for being unceremoniously dumped on back porches of unsuspecting neighbors. Good brand names are easy to spell. But two c’s and a silent h? The average Ivy Leaguer probably needs to check dictionary.com to get it right. Let’s simplify it to zukini and remove the confusion. (For the record, zukini.com is taken so maybe a change is in the works.)
Recipe: It’s awesome fried. Cut zukini into rounds about 1/4 inch thick. Dredge them in flour, dip them into an egg wash, then coat them with ground-up saltines. (Use a food processor or crush them by hand in a resealable bag.) Pan-fry them in about 1/4 inch of vegetable oil on each side until golden brown. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and a light dusting of paprika. Place on paper towels to drain.
Shiitake mushroom. Yes, it’s a fungus, not a vegetable. But who was the genius who started the brand with such a, um, crappy syllable? (Their brown color isn’t helping matters.) They’re actually quite delicious and one of the most potent providers of umami (savoriness) available without a chem lab. The origin is Japanese: shii is the name of the tree that provides the dead logs on which the mushroom typically grows. Although the name is authentic, the construction of the word leaves a bit to be desired. Wikipedia indicates that they are also known as “sawtooth oak mushroom,” “black forest mushroom,”, “black mushroom,” “golden oak mushroom,” or “oakwood mushroom.” It’s safe to say that any of those names would be more desirable than the misleading first five letters of the mushroom’s conventional name.
Recipe: This New York Times creation with butter and garlic would be an umami bomb when served over a seared steak or stirred into risotto.
Arugula. The British call it “rocket.” That’s a much more appropriate (and memorable) name for this bitter green that will send your taste buds soaring. “Arugula” not an easy or comfortable word to pronounce, especially if you have not encountered it before. Why not simplify it and take a cue from our friends across the pond? Rocket it is!
Recipe: Tre colore salad, is one of the best salad recipes on the planet, particularly if you like assertive flavors. Rocket is combined with endive and radicchio (let’s add that one to the list) and tossed with vinaigrette. Mmmmm.
Realistically, most of the vegetable names are so entrenched that it would be tough or impossible to get them changed. Perhaps there are others that are even more deserving. (Do we hear any votes for jicama?) Yet one can’t help to wonder whether a more marketing-driven name might compel shoppers to give some of the maligned veggies above a second look.