Commonly consumed vegetables, such as spinach, lettuce, peppers, carrots, and cabbage, provide abundant nutrients and flavors. It’s no wonder that they’re among the most popular varieties worldwide.
While these veggies are very healthy, relying on them heavily may prevent you from trying less familiar choices.
In fact, research shows that increasing the variety of vegetables in your diet may help reduce your risk of heart disease — and even improve your overall quality of life.
Incredibly, thousands of different vegetables grow all over the world, some of which may be available where you live.
Here are 18 unique vegetables that can make a healthy and exciting addition to your diet.
Daikon is a winter radish often used in Asian dishes. With a crunchy texture and mild, peppery flavor, it resembles a large, white carrot with a leafy top.
It’s very low in calories, offering just 25 per cooked cup (147 grams). It’s also packed with many nutrients, including vitamin C, copper, potassium, and folate.
What’s more, daikon contains high amounts of powerful plant compounds, such as glucosinolates, which act as antioxidants and may have anticancer properties.
Taro is a root vegetable that’s a popular carb source in Africa and Asia. When cooked, it has a subtly sweet taste and soft texture, making it an excellent stand-in for potatoes, sweet potatoes, and starchy vegetables.
It’s also an excellent source of fiber, vitamin E, B vitamins, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and manganese.
Taro is especially beneficial for digestive health due to its impressive fiber content.
Studies show that its fiber acts as a prebiotic, stimulating the growth of friendly gut bacteria that boost immune health and protect against bowel diseases, among other benefits.
Delicata squash is a type of summer squash — though harvested during winter — with an oblong shape and creamy color marked by vertical stripes.
Unlike other squashes, such as butternut or pumpkin, delicatas have thin, tender skin and can be eaten without peeling the outer rind. Delicata has a sweet, pumpkin-like flavor that pairs well with many foods.
It’s also low in calories and carbs, making it an excellent lower-carb alternative to starchy vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes.
The Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)is a type of sunflower grown for its edible tubers, which are commonly known as sunchokes.
This starchy vegetable looks like ginger root. When cooked, it’s tender and tastes slightly nutty.
A good source of many nutrients, Jerusalem artichokes are especially high in iron, which is essential for red blood cell production, and inulin, a type of fiber that may promote digestive health and blood sugar control.
Chayote belongs to the same family as pumpkins and zucchini.
This bright green, wrinkled squash has tender, edible skin and white, mild flesh that’s typically cooked but can also be eaten raw.
Although low in calories, it’s packed with vitamins and minerals. One cup (132 grams) of raw chayote contains just 25 calories, yet delivers over 30% of the daily value (DV) for folate, a B vitamin involved in DNA synthesis and cellular function.
All parts of the dandelion plant (Taraxacum officinale)are edible, including the leaves, which are known as dandelion greens.
Though not as popular as other leafy greens, they’re loaded with an array of vitamins, minerals, and potent plant compounds, including vitamin K, iron, and polyphenol antioxidants.
Many test-tube and animal studies suggest that dandelion greens may lower blood sugar and cholesterol and help prevent cellular damage.
What’s more, they can be enjoyed raw or cooked and make a great substitute for other greens like spinach or lettuce.
Fiddleheads are the flavorful leaves of young ferns that have not yet unfolded. Popular among foragers, they’re harvested from immature ferns and have a tightly wound, curled shape.
Fiddleheads are rich in nutrients and plant compounds, such as provitamin A, vitamin C, and manganese.
Their carotenoid plant pigments include lutein and beta carotene, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and may protect against various conditions like certain cancers and eye diseases.
Fiddleheads are easily incorporated into stir-fries, soups, and pastas.
Jicama is the edible root of the Pachyrhizus erosus vine. Turnip-like in shape, it has white, mildly sweet flesh.
This tuberous vegetable is loaded with vitamin C, a water-soluble vitamin that’s important for immune health and acts as an antioxidant.
Jicama is also packed with fiber, including inulin, a prebiotic that’s good for your gut health.
Cassava, also known as yuca, is a root vegetable that looks like a sweet potato but has a milder, nuttier taste.
Often mashed, fried, or roasted, it must be cooked to reduce its levels of cyanogenic glycosides, which may impair thyroid function.
Cassava is a good source of vitamin C, several B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and copper. It’s also drought-resistant, making it a staple food for people in developing countries.
Celeriac is a peculiar root vegetable that’s closely related to celery and parsley.
It has a celery-like taste that makes an excellent low-carb substitute for potatoes in soups and stews, though it can also be enjoyed raw.
Celeriac is likewise a great source of phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins C and K.
Rutabagas, also called swedes, snaggers, or neeps, are a cruciferous vegetable in the same family as kale, cauliflower, and cabbage.
They’re believed to be a cross between a turnip and a cabbage and closely resemble turnips in appearance. However, they have rougher skin and a milder flavor.
Rutabagas are low in calories but rich in nutrients like fiber, vitamin C, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, and magnesium, making them a nutrient-dense veggie that can be enjoyed raw or cooked.
Romanesco is an eye-catching vegetable with an intricate, spiral-like shape and bright green color. What’s more, it offers several powerful plant compounds.
Research shows that brassica vegetables — which include romanesco, broccoli, and cabbages.
For example, a diet rich in brassicas may safeguard against colon, lung, and breast cancer. However, food should never be considered a treatment for this disease.
Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is a gourd grown worldwide and prized for its powerful medicinal properties.
Many varieties exist, though all have a bitter taste. They’re often used in dishes like soups, curries, and stir-fries.
The vegetable has long been used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of conditions, such as diabetes, pneumonia, kidney disease, and psoriasis.
Test-tube and animal research demonstrates that bitter melon has anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and anti-diabetes effects due to its abundance of plant compounds.
Purslane is an edible weed that grows naturally in fields and lawns. Technically a succulent, it has glossy leaves and a lemony flavor.
Purslane is very low in calories, delivering just 9 per 1-cup (43-gram) serving. At the same time, it boasts an impressive amount of potassium, magnesium, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based omega-3 fat.
It’s also rich in potent antioxidants, including vitamin C, beta carotene, glutathione, and alpha tocopherol, which help prevent cellular damage and protect against chronic diseases.
The tubers come in various colors — including yellow, red, and purple — and have been shown to provide antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects in animal and test-tube studies.
However, according to research in rodents, mashua may harm testicular function. As such, it should be eaten in moderation.
Mashua is often cooked but can also be served raw.
Popular in Mexican cuisine, tomatillos are members of the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes and eggplants.
Tomatillos resemble tomatoes and are covered in a papery husk that’s removed before eating.
When ripe, they take on a green, purple, or red hue, depending on the variety. Tomatillos can be picked at different points of ripening, offering a tart taste when young and sweeter flavor when mature.
Plus, they’re nutrient-dense and low in calories, with a 1-cup (132-gram) serving providing only 42 calories, yet over 17% of your daily vitamin C needs.
Ramps are a type of wild onion that’s native to North America and closely related to garlic and shallots. Their strong, garlicky aroma and rich flavor make them popular among chefs and foragers alike.
Ramps are a concentrated source of vitamin C, which enhances iron absorption and safeguards against cellular damage and infections.
What’s more, research suggests that allium vegetables like ramps may help.
Salsify is a root vegetable that resembles a long carrot. It comes in white and black varieties, each with a distinct flavor and appearance.
Black salsify has dark skin and is often called “vegetable oyster” due to its mild oyster-like flavor. On the other hand, the white variety has tan skin and is said to taste like artichoke hearts.
Both types make excellent substitutes for other root vegetables like potatoes and carrots and are high in many nutrients, including vitamin C, several B vitamins, and potassium.
Plus, salsify may promote feelings of fullness and reduce cholesterol levels due to its high fiber content.
Daikon, bitter melon, romanesco, and purslane are just a few of the thousands of uncommon but highly nutritious vegetables grown around the world.
Adding some of these veggies to your diet will not only expand your palate and add flavor to your dishes but also potentially boost your overall health.
Don’t be afraid to try these unique vegetables if you spot them at farmers markets or your local grocery store.