Ugly Beautiful

As consumers, we’ve been conditioned to seek out perfection and beauty in everything we purchase — including what we put into our grocery baskets. As a result, farmers often aim to deliver fruit and vegetables that look the part (using whatever means available, natural or otherwise), sometimes at the expense of flavour, ripeness and nutrition. In turn, retailers stock their shelves with what their customers seem to expect: perfectly uniform, unblemished fruit and vegetables.

The impact this has on waste, costs and the environment is significant. Earlier this year, British Conservative MP, Laura Sandys went to the extent of announcing that she wanted to launch a company specifically to sell ‘ugly’ food in a bid to combat this trend against retailing irregular produce. Some 20 percent of the British harvest is purportedly discarded because it doesn’t adhere to size and shape regulations. Even perfectly fine fruit and vegetables that are unevenly coloured, such as a red apple which isn’t red enough on one side, are rejected. Yet, oftentimes it is the slightly bruised, misshapened but ripe specimens that simply taste the best.

In addition to the battle to be fought on behalf of produce that simply miss the beauty mark, it’s also worth campaigning for the ingredients that are generally considered downright unappetizingly ugly, which really are terribly good for you.

Here are some fruits and vegetables to consider:

Take bitter gourd, for example. It may look like an old, blistered cucumber and taste, well, bitter (it’s among the most bitter vegetables around), it contains a plant insulin known to lower blood sugar levels, and is a great source of folates, vitamins A and C, and free radical-fighting flavonoids.

The mucilage in okra (also known as ladies fingers) may seem disgusting to some, but it can help your digestion and colon. Don’t knock the knobbly ginger root either. It contains two natural antibiotics, improves digestion and reduces inflammation, which explains why ginger is an age-old natural treatment for colds and the flu, as well as stomach flus or food poisoning. Ginger is also known to be a powerful painkiller.

And while the cross-section of a fig looks like freakish alien spawn, ripe figs are lusciously sweet, high in fibre, and full of vitamins and minerals.

Perhaps it’s time to reassess our misconceptions of the good, bad and ugly in the food world.