This is part of a series exploring the cultural, technological and social trends that are informing the way we dine and select what we eat. Read the rest in the series here.
It is important to distinguish between the two types of ugly produce: there are the ingredients that just look ugly: hairy brown celeriac, warty kabocha squash, unfortunate brown taro, and those that, through some twist of nature, grow ugly: gnarled, multi-limbed carrots, bent cucumbers, freckly cauliflower.
Both are hideous, but the former don't even have the benefit of a good-looking specimen to help them out of the produce section. That's a shame because many of them are every bit as delicious as their more attractive cousins.
Here's a list of some of our favourite ugly foods.
Celeriac – puree, bake or simply roast
The hirsute, carbuncular appearance of this root vegetable is in direct opposition to its bright, delicate flavour and refreshing crunch. Fundamental to a good remoulade, its gentle flavour, a blend between celery and parsley, is excellent in a purée, baked with cream or simply roasted.
Kabocha squash – braise with coconut milk and curry paste
Alien green and prone to unsightly bumps and blemishes, the rind hides tender, sweet orange flesh that works beautifully with spicy Asian flavours as well as earthy herbaceous ones. Try braising it in coconut milk and curry paste or roasted with sage and brown butter.
Taro – toxic when raw, not much better in famous Hawaiian staple
Undeniably grub-like in appearance and toxic when raw, taro is nonetheless eaten around the world from the Azores to the West Indies. Often fried into chips, stewed or pounded into poi, a slimy staple of Hawaii, it’s delicious when steamed with pork and mushrooms to make the Chinese classic woo tul gow.
Tangelo – delicate flavour, good in custards
Commonly known by the trademarked name, Ugli Fruit, this deflated doughnut-looking fruit boasts a wrinkly, rough, greenish-yellow skin and was created by hybridizing an orange, grapefruit and tangerine. The delicious flesh can be eaten on its own and lends itself nicely to flavouring custard desserts.
Bitter melon – tarts up stir fries, pickles and even beer
So named for its extremely bitter flavour this herbaceous tendril’s fruit, the edible part, is pointy and covered in toothy ridges. Popular in South Asia and India where it originated, it is favoured sin everything from stir fries and pickles and has even been used in place of hops to make beer.