Is there a list of those 30,000 plants somewhere? How do we know about them all? Are they all actively eaten by someone, somewhere, or are they all just theoretically edible in the sense that they wouldn’t kill us?
And where/when can I start eating my way through them?
I’m into plant food. As far as animals unconventionally used for food go, I’m rarely blown away by any difference in the taste of meat alone. The whole ‘it tastes like chicken’ thing may be overly simplistic, but in my heart of hearts, that’s kind of how I feel. Frog tastes like slippery, somewhat fishy chicken. Rabbit tastes like diluted dark meat chicken. Ostrich tastes like beefy chicken. Even though I’m a gamey-meat-lover, I haven’t found something that gets to my umami receptors quite like a good fat-coated hunk of mutton or goat - the more ‘exotic’ venison and bison included.
When I’m excited about the taste of something it’s usually because it’s either seafood or a particularly unique blend of spices. Even sea snails, which I tend to write about as though they’re infallible, don’t excite me without some tamarind sauce, or at the very least some chili salt, lemon, and Vietnamese coriander. I love po’ boys because of the Cajun coating on the shrimp, larb because of the dry-ricey, limey, strongly minted rub, amok trey because of the lemongrass-scented coconut milk, and hot pot because of the Sichuan peppercorn.
None of the plants I mentioned are in the top 11. Well, other than the wheat needed to make the bread on the po’ boy, the cornstarch in the coating used to deep-fry the shrimp, the rice needed to rub the larb, possibly whatever kind of oil is used to fry/stir-fry/saute/drizzle on all of this stuff…
So actually, many of them are. The top 11 are probably at the top for a reason, or really, a combination of reasons, ranging from ease of cultivation to convenience to a good helping of path dependency. My point is, though, that they may make up 93% of our food, but they certainly don’t make up 93% of my enjoyment, and probably not anyone else’s enjoyment either. I want to taste those plants - fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, and grains - that I haven’t tried, because if I’ve only tried a tiny percentage of them, and I still love food this much, how much more potential do I have to love food if I raise that percentage?
The mind boggles.
I’m trying to locate a list of these 30,000 plants. The closest I’ve come is from pro-foraging websites, Wikipedia, and an organization that wants to add diversity to global crops to increase sustainability, whose database is the biggest at 7,000 plants. I don’t expect a comprehensive document, but I'd like at least something I can use as a reference list to start searching for those little-known, little-used plants. I’m sure that many are confined to isolated, far-flung jungles and steppes and forests - in other words, I may not be able to drive there on the freeway - but I’m not opposed to an eventual rare-plant-seeking/critiquing world tour.