You can’t go wrong with a tried-and-true vegetable assortment in your garden. After all, peas, carrots, lettuce, and tomatoes are the cornerstones of most people’s diets. They’re reliable, and most of us know how to cook with them.
The downside is that they can get a bit boring after a while. Humans crave variety, and it’s great to mix things up on a regular basis. We’ve rounded up 26 unusual vegetables for you to try growing. Some might already be familiar to you, others not, but all are delicious and worth exploring.
Check them out!
These are the unfurled tops of ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris). You might not consider them to be unusual vegetables if you grew up in the Maritimes, but to others, they may be quite extraordinary.
These normally wild ferns can be cultivated on your property. In fact, they’re ideal for a marshy, wet area on your land that can’t be used for other crops.
The tops are cut off while still tightly coiled up, and fried in butter or oil with garlic and herbs. They have a dense, chewy texture and a flavor reminiscent of asparagus.
Speaking of wild greens…
Have you ever come across this stuff before? Known as “Saltwort” in England, Salsola soda is a Mediterranean vegetable that looks like a cross between chives and seaweed. It’s crunchy and salty with a hint of lemon and tastes like a mix between spinach and sorrel.
Agretti thrives in coastal areas but can be cultivated in sandy soil in most temperate and hot zones. Just make sure it gets a TON of sun and a lot of water.
3. Walking Stick Kale
Do you like kale? Furthermore, do you like the idea of kale plants that can grow 20+ feet tall? And how about kale that has a stalk that can be made into a walking stick or bo staff once dried? Then check out this species (Brassica oleracea longata).
Its leaves are tender and delicious to eat when young and are ideal for animal fodder once mature.
4. Job’s Tears
You might not have even heard of this vegetable before, but it’s quite fascinating. Coix lacryma-jobi is a member of the grass family and is quite similar to corn in its growth habit.
It’s a perennial cereal grain that’s been cultivated in Southeast Asia for generations. These plants have been naturalized in North America for a couple of centuries now, and thrive quite happily in most growing zones.
In addition to being cooked and eaten like barley in soups and other dishes, the seeds are also used decoratively. They’re particularly popular amongst the Cherokee nation as jewelry, and as rosary beads in Thailand and the Philippines.
Have you tried these African horned cucumber melons before? They look like they’d jump up and attack you if threatened, but taste incredible. Their flesh is slightly gelatinous, tastes like a tropical banana-lime-citrus blend, and is delicious eaten fresh, juiced, or frozen into desserts.
You can grow Cucumis metuliferus in zone 9 through 11. Just make sure to provide them with plenty of nutrient-rich soil, as they need a lot of nutrition.
6. Giant Feather Leaf Lettuce
At first glance, you might mistake this tasty green (a cultivar of Lactuca sativa) for a dandelion. It has similar-looking toothed, light green leaves, but tastes like Romaine lettuce! You can harvest the young leaves for salad, or use the larger, mature ones in stir-fries and soups.
This variety hails from China and is much more heat-resistant than most other lettuces. Just note that it can also grow up to four feet tall, so you’ll need space to grow this beauty.
They look like mini watermelons, taste like cucumbers, and are ridiculously adorable. If you’re cultivating a garden on a patio or balcony and are looking for dwarf species, add Melothria scabra to your list. As far as unusual vegetables go, these are some of the most adorable ones out there.
Just be aware that they’re prone to cucumber mosaic virus, much like other members of the Cucurbitaceae family. If you’ve had issues with this or powdery mildew, then clean your containers thoroughly and plant them in an elevated, airy, dry location with plenty of sun.
If you’re familiar with the story of Rapunzel, then you’ll have heard of rampion already. That’s because “rapunzel” is another name for the Campanula rapunculus plant.
It was once a treasured food plant in England and France, where it was cultivated for both its leaves and roots. It’s now mostly known as a wildflower, but you can easily grow it from seed in your own garden.
The leaves are mildly flavored and lovely in salads, while the roots can be cooked like turnips or parsnips.
9. Chinese Python Snake Gourd
Are you keen to freak out your neighbors? Then leave a few of these lying in your yard (especially if you live in snake country).
Although Trichosanthes cucumerina is a member of the gourd (cucumber) family, it tastes like a green bean and is treated like such in Chinese cuisine. It’s usually cooked alongside onions, peppers, and tofu, and you can also scrape out the inner flesh to use as a thickening and seasoning agent in soups and sauces.
You’ll need to trellis these plants on sturdy frames, as they get huge as they sprawl outwards.
If you live in a hot climate, or you have very high ceilings in your house, then consider growing a moringa tree (M. oleifera). This is also known as the “drumstick” tree, and it’s entirely edible. The leaves and flowers are absolutely packed with protein, vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, and iron.
As an added bonus, herbivorous animals such as rabbits and goats love them too, so they’re ideal multi-purpose plants.
Note that these can grow up to meters tall in their first year alone. I’m growing one in my living room, which has a 17-foot ceiling. Yeah, and I need to keep trimming it down from the mezzanine or it’ll break through the roof. Really tasty though!
11. Achocha Fat Babies
When it comes to unusual vegetables, these have got to be some of the most unique ones out there. In addition to being known as “fat babies,” Cyclanthera brachystachya fruits are also called “exploding cucumbers”. Why? For rather self-explanatory reasons: they literally explode when ripe to disperse their seeds.
Harvest them when they’re about 1/2″ in size to eat raw in salads or pickle them for later. Any larger than that and they might explode at you.
12. Samphire (Sea Beans)
Samphire grows wild in coastal areas but can be cultivated quite easily in a greenhouse. You just need to ensure that it has the magical combination of sandy soil and plenty of water/humidity in order to thrive properly.
Of course, if you just happen to be fortunate to own seaside property, then you can grow it close to the ocean as well!
This vegetable is deliciously crunchy and salty, and doesn’t need many additional ingredients to make its flavors shine. Sautee it lightly with a bit of garlic and lemon, and serve with seafood or sandwiches.
13. Marina di Chioggia Pumpkin
Speaking of unusual vegetables that prefer oceanic climates, these stunning pumpkins (Cucurbita maxima) were cultivated along the coast of Italy. They’re perfectly suited to that kind of weather and are more tolerant of drier soil than most of their gourd cousins.
They look strange, with their teal green, warty skins, but their flesh is absolutely delectable. It’s thick and meaty and is just as delicious sweetened in pies as seasoned for use in ravioli or pasta sauce.
14. Aji Charapita Hot Peppers
These little orange beauties look like currants and taste like burning, but in the best way possible. Hailing from Peru, aji charapita peppers are only a quarter of an inch in diameter and are about as spicy as a cayenne or jalapeno.
Their awesomeness isn’t just in their appearance, however. They also have a fruity, citrus-like flavor in addition to their heat. If you love spicy salsas and sauces, try growing these little wonders this year.
If you like potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes, consider growing oca (Oxalis tuberosa) as well. These South American tubers are grown throughout the Andes and are almost as popular as potatoes throughout Bolivia and Peru.
They’re sweet-tangy and nutty and are as delicious roasted as they are added to soups and stews. These plants enjoy cool, damp temperatures, sandy soil, and partial shade. As a result, they’re well suited to properties that would be inhospitable to sunchokes, sweet potatoes, or regular taters.
16. Malabar Spinach
Have you tried to grow standard spinach in a hot climate? if you have, you’ve probably noticed that it bolts in about 0.03 seconds. I’ve only been able to grow it here at the tail end of autumn, and picked it early as a baby green.
In contrast, Malabar spinach (Basella alba) is a climbing vine that thrives in hot, humid climates. It’s originally from southern, coastal India, and its leaves are very similar to standard spinach. In fact, it even tastes similar, though it’s a bit spicier than the species we’re used to.
17. Yard-Long Beans
These Taiwanese beauties (Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis) can grow over three feet long! This makes them ideal if you’d like to grow a lot of food in a small space. The pods are delicious and mild-flavored, while the dried beans are just as tasty in soups and stews.
They thrive in high heat and humidity, so they’re ideal for places like Louisiana and Florida as well as tropical Asian and Caribbean locales. Consider growing them up the side of a wall, or over trellised tunnels. They’re quite prolific, and the long pods can be harvested more easily from below.
If you grew up with Mexican cuisine, then chances are you’ve eaten nopales in various different forms. This vegetable is actually the leaf pad of Opuntia cacti, known as “prickly pear” in English. They may be unusual vegetables to you, but they have been a staple food for Indigenous people for thousands of years.
Just like all other cactus species, nopales need dry, sandy, well-draining soil, and a ton of heat and sunlight to thrive. They’ll do well as long as you’re in a dry region in zones 8 through 11. We grew them in California, and they also thrive in New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas, as well as most of Mexico and northern South American countries.
If you’re keen on trying out unusual vegetables, this brassica looks like something that was imported here from another planet. Romanesco florets are arranged in fascinating-looking spiral progressions that would inspire any mathematician, and they taste like a cross between broccoli and cauliflower.
I once said that this vegetable sounds like something you’d howl in Klingon, and I hold to that. The first time I saw it in a CSA box, I had no idea what it was nor what to do with it. But kohlrabi, from the brassica group, is quite versatile.
This tasty member of the mint family is grown throughout Asia as a condiment as well as a vegetable. It can be added to soups and broths, used in tea, mixed into stir-fries, or rolled up into sushi.
Shiso leaves are used fresh as well as dried, and can also be pickled for later use. Both leaves and seeds taste like a cross between mint and anise hyssop.
Note: while unusual vegetables are great for mixing things up, do research before planting. Shiso can be toxic to livestock such as cattle and rabbits, so be careful if and when you cultivate it.
If you’re in a tropical or sub-tropical region, consider growing chayote. These small green vegetables look like pears but are actually gourds related to cucumbers and zucchini. In fact, you can cook them much like you would a zucchini, namely by sauteeing or roasting.
You can sprout chayote from fruits that you find at your local South American food market. Just note that they need very compost-rich soil, as they’re heavy feeders.
23. Lotus Root
If you’ve never tasted lotus root before, do a quick search on UberEats and remedy that as soon as possible. The roots of Nelumbo nucifera plants are crunchy and nutty, and can be prepared in countless different ways. It’s a fat-free, carb-rich vegetable that has a low glycemic index, and ideal for wet areas that would otherwise be unusable.
Do you have a pond on your property? Or a water barrel garden? Then you can easily cultivate this delicious plant in your own yard. Also? Bonus points for beautiful flowers that you can also use for perfume.
24. Miner’s Lettuce
Isn’t Claytonia perfoliata pretty? With its bright green, plate-like leaves and delicate flowers, this delicious annual looks more like a border plant than a vegetable. But it’s been cultivated as a food plant for centuries and thrives in zones 3 through 11. I’ve grown it near Sacramento as well as here in Quebec, and it practically thrives on neglect.
Additionally, this plant grows in almost any soil and does best in dappled sun/partial shade. This makes it great for woodland edging or shaded spots behind/beneath taller food crops. Use it as a companion plant around beans and peas to take advantage of their nitrogen-fixing abilities.
25. Bitter Apple
This gourd (Citrullus colocynthis) is also known as “bitter cucumber” and “desert gourd”. It’s native to many Mediterranean, African, and Middle Eastern countries, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years.
While the flesh is too bitter and unpalatable to eat, it has a wide variety of medicinal properties. In terms of edibility, it has tasty seeds that have been put to good use by many different cultures. The Bedouin people grind them up into bread flour, while many West African peoples use them to thicken and flavor egusi soup.
(If you’d like to try making egusi soup at home but can’t get bitter gourd seeds, you can use pumpkin or squash seeds instead.)
26. Winged Asparagus Pea
Asparagus peas (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus), also called “winged beans”, are some of the coolest, most unusual vegetables I’ve ever seen. They hail from Southeast Asia, and every single part of the plant is edible!
Their pods remind me of honey locust crossed with a hedgehog, and the beans inside resemble black-eyed peas. The flowers are spicy, the leaves taste like spinach, the tubers have a turnip-like flavor, and the legumes themselves are delicious too.
These plants are low-growing and need to be supported so their pods don’t slop all over the ground. They’ll behave like perennials in tropical climates, but can be cultivated as annuals elsewhere.
What do you think of the unusual vegetables on this list? Have you already tried some of them? Or will they all be new culinary adventures for you? Hopefully at least a few of them have piqued your interest!