Early spring vegetables
Early spring vegetables feed our eyes with vivid colours, provide us with vitamins and minerals and revive our pallet with crisp, tasty choices. Popping up in grocery stores and markets, they are calling out to be bitten into. Flavourful and juicy, they’re a long-awaited change to the root vegetables available during endless winter months. Especially because at the beginning of spring, our bodies crave for a vitamin boost and a bit of variety in our everyday diets. But are the early spring vegetables really so healthy?
Chemical fertilisers - Mendeleev's table
Unfortunately, despite their beautiful colours and memorable fresh taste, the early spring vegetables may contain many chemicals which stimulate their growth and artificially enhance their healthy fresh appearance. Early vegetables are usually not grown in natural conditions, they lack sunshine and therefore, need to be heavily fertilised. Many of them contain harmful compounds - nitrates, nitrites, lead (found especially in vegetables grown near traffic) and pesticides.
Many common vegetables such as celery, radishes or beetroot contain nitrates, but the real problem occurs when the nitrogenous substances are artificially accumulated in vegetables. When fertilised, plants don’t absorb as much nitrates as they need, but as much as they get. These substances are not hazardous to the plants themselves, but in humans, they can be converted to nitrites and then to cancer-causing compounds called nitrosamines.
Everything in moderation
Despite some disadvantages, don’t avoid eating early spring vegetables! They’re full of vitamins and minerals; they give us the foretaste of summer and improve our mood. Even just a variety of colours on your plate will make you feel so much better. If you buy your vegetables from an unknown source, you should fear the harmful consequences of chemical substances only after eating large quantities. A spring vegetables salad once in a while will do no harm to our health. Moderation is the key - have a balanced diet and consider early vegetables as a nice and healthy addition to your spring meals. Eating vegetables is so much better than not eating them at all, just make smart choices - be aware of what you buy, where you buy and how you store.
What are the smart choices?
1. Go organic! Organic vegetables are free from artificial fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. Organic crops are subject to careful control from fertilisation to growing, right up to packaging and labeling. Organic vegetables are predominantly more expensive, but it’s a choice worth considering...
2. Grow your own...if you’re lucky enough to have a garden. The best would be a small piece of land located at least 100 metres from a busy road. Besides, growing your own vegetables equals not only chemical-free salad, but also a lot of fun!
3. If you’re unfortunate enough to live somewhere in the city centre, you can still have a small garden on your window sill. Cress, chives and even radish can be easily grown in pots. Those plants don’t require too much care; they just need sufficient sunlight and frequent watering.
Some tips for buying and storing
If you have no means to grow your own vegetables, here are some tips that you can follow when buying them.
1. Carefully choose your vegetables. They should be fresh-looking with no signs of mildew. Smell the vegetables before purchasing. Obviously, they will never smell as intense as those picked in the middle of summer, but they should have a nice, delicate aroma.
Root vegetables like radishes or carrots should be firm and smooth and have intact greens. Unless they are organic, avoid the temptation of buying overgrown radishes - large and shiny ones probably received a lot of chemicals during intensive fertilisation. Lettuce should have green leaves and be crisp - if you see any evidence of decay or discolouration, better not buy it. Good-quality spring onions have green, crisp tops and white necks, avoid the ones that are yellow or wilted.
2. Proper storage is important. Don’t keep your vegetables in plastic bags, they accumulate the moisture and accelerate the conversion of nitrate to harmful nitrite. Wash the vegetables thoroughly before eating - lukewarm water will help remove some of the harmful chemical substances. Lettuce and spinach should be washed and dried before being stored inside the refrigerator, this will remove excess moisture.
The article was written for Sunbeams It's a website sharing information on an eco-friendly lifestyle with the expatriate community in the Brussels area. Sunbeams writes practical articles, organises presentations by specialists, and helps exchange information among each other. Subscribe to their newsletter!
Unfortunately, this time the photo is not taken by me but by photographers who contribute to http://www.sxc.hu