Salsify, also known as the vegetable oyster plant, is a saltwater mollusk flavored root vegetable of Mediterranean origin. Salsify and Scorzonera are two closely related plants in the Asteraceae family. Both these plants are hardy perennials native to the Southern Europe, cultivated for their delicious edible taproots. Of the two species, Scorzonera (black oyster plant), however, is more popular than common or white-salsify, especially in Spain, Italy, and Belgium.
Scientific name:- 1. Common Salsify: Tragopogon porrifolius. 2. Spanish or black salsify: Scorzonera hispanica. Both have similar growth characteristics as that of other Apiaceae family members like carrots, parsley, celery, etc.
|Black oyster taproot. Note for long, linear black colored taproots. Photo courtesy: beck|
Both scorzonera and white salsify cultivars are hardy perennials, growing best in the cold temperate regions. They reach about 2-3 feet in height and if left to grow further, blooms yellow flowers and seed pods during in the second year. The underground root grows about 12 to 16 inches below the surface and features thick bark-like skin and sticky, white firm-textured flesh underneath. It takes about 120 days for the crop ready to dugout its root. In general, seeds sown in summer to harvest in winter or fall for harvesting in spring.
Scorzonera, also known as black salsify, features pointed leaves. It is more commonly cultivated in Spain, and Belgium for its long, black, straight, stout, underground taproots.
Common Salsify, also known as light colored salsify, features long, linear leaves. It found commonly in Russia, France, and Italy.
As in parsnips, oyster plants also require adequate exposure to winter frost for good crop production. Frosting facilitates the conversion of much of its starch into sugars in the taproots and helps develop long, narrow, and firm taproots. The roots generally harvested when they reach about ten to twelve inches in length, by pulling the entire plant along with its root (uprooting) as in carrots.
Salsify roots carry 82 calories per 100 grams, almost as that of in sweet potatoes. Nonetheless, its root is rich in several health-benefiting phytonutrients, inulin, vitamins, and minerals.
It is one of the excellent sources of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. Inulin (not insulin) is a natural, soluble inert complex polysaccharide present in salsify roots. Inulin acts as prebiotic, help absorb minerals and regulate blood sugar levels, control obesity and ease constipation problems.
As in other members of Apiaceae family vegetables, vegetable oyster too contains many poly-acetylene antioxidants such as falcarinol, falcarindiol, panaxydiol, and methyl-falcarindiol. Several research studies from scientists at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne found that these compounds possess anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and anti-cancer function and offer protection from colon cancer and acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
Fresh roots are also good in vitamin-C; provide about 8 mg or 13% of RDA. Vitamin-C is a powerful water-soluble antioxidant, readily available to us from natural sources. It helps the human body maintain healthy connective tissue, teeth, and gum. Its anti-oxidant property helps protect from diseases and cancers by scavenging harmful free radicals from the body.
Further, the root is rich in many B-complex groups of vitamins such as folates, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin, and pantothenic acid.
Besides, it also has healthy levels of minerals like iron, calcium, copper, potassium, manganese and phosphorus. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure by countering effects of sodium.
Inside the US, fresh salsify can occasionally be found in some supermarkets. Each season, many enthusiastic home gardeners instead grow them in their backyard for the fresh produce. If you are the one, then harvesting the root is quite a tricky game than growing salsify itself. Their long, slender taproots tend to snap and spoil easily. Dig earth around the root and gently pull the entire plant with root. Snapped root should be used early or else it tends to lose its flavor early.
Fresh roots stay well inside the refrigerator for up to 7-10 days. Farmers left entire root lie buried under the soil throughout winter since exposure to frost brings out the flavor.
In the markets, select fresh, firm, and straight roots. Avoid soft, shriveled, pitted, knobby, or damaged roots.
Prepared and, canned salsify, however, does not carry the same intense oyster flavor of fresh ones.
|Prepared scorzonera chunks.
Photo courtesy: Steffen zahn.
Preparing salsify roots can be tedious but worth exploring. In general, its outer skin should be removed before employing in the dishes. Give gentle scrub wash in cold water. Trim the ends. Peel its skin using a paring knife to expose white edible flesh inside. Peeling results in oozing of sticky latex from its surface which can stain hand and clothes. You might need a pair of gloves and a soft cloth to clean peeled root surface. Rinse the peeled root inside acidulated water (vinegar/lemon juice) in order to prevent it turning brown. Peeling can be easier in boiled roots.
Cook briefly; overcooking turns the flesh mushy.
Here are some serving tips:
|Baked black vegetable oyster root served with shaved truffles.
Photo courtesy: krista
Prepared, raw, vegetable oyster can add unique, sweet flavor to salads, coleslaw, and toppings.
Black salsify is a prized delicacy in some traditional Italian dishes. Sliced/diced it can be added to stews, soups or mashed (pureed) like parsnips.
Its prepared roots can be roasted, boiled, or steamed like asparagus shoots.
Slices and cubes added to stews, soups, and stir-fries and served with poultry, fish, and meat.
It can be used in bread, pies, casseroles, cakes, etc., in a variety of savory dishes.
Excess consumption of salsify root in food may cause stomachache, bloating, abdominal discomfort and diarrhea. Inulin also elicits hypersensitivity reactions, itching, and redness in some sensitive persons. Parsnip plant and its parts may cause hypersensitivity reactions like contact dermatitis and oral allergy syndrome (OAS). Individuals with a known history of allergy to these taproots should avoid them. (Medical disclaimer).
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Research articles on nutrition.
1. Refer Stanford School of Medicine Cancer information Page- Nutrition to Reduce Cancer Risk.
3. BBC News.