Did you know that black pepper comes from flowering vines, or that cashew nuts grow atop cashew apples and have toxic shells?

Most Americans probably don’t, according to a 2011 survey by the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance.

In a society where foods from across the globe can be found in a grocery store year-round (and in some cases already prepared, packaged and ready to be eaten), it’s easy to overlook how that food got on the shelf or what it looked like before it was prepared.

Although research shows that we do think about food production, the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance survey found that Americans know very little about how food gets to the dinner table.

In fact, 72 percent of consumers know very little about farming or ranching.

Here’s a photographic look at how 16 fruits, vegetables and spices grow. Some of them may surprise you.


artichoke with flower

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A species of thistle, the edible parts of the artichoke plant are the flower buds that appear before the flower blooms. Once in bloom, as pictured, the bracts become coarse and inedible.



Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Capers are actually pickled flower buds from the caper bush that are picked before the buds flower. Sometimes capers are allowed to mature into a fruit about the size of an olive and then sold as caper berries.



Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Black pepper

black pepper

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The fruit of the pepper plant is cultivated, cooked briefly in hot water and then dried to create black pepper.


coffee beans

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Coffee beans come from coffea, a genus of flowering plants. The trees produce fruits known as cherries that contain one to two seeds, or coffee beans, which aren’t true beans.



Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Cashew nuts are kidney-shaped formations that grow at the end of cashew apples. The shell of the nut is toxic, and the cashew is naturally green until it's roasted.



Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Cocoa beans


Photo: voyagevixen2/flickr

Cacao trees produce close to 2,000 ridged pods per year, and the fruit grows straight from the branches and trunk of the tree. The pods contain 30 to 40 seeds, or cocoa beans, which we use to make cocoa powder and chocolate.



Photo: rengber/flickr



Photo: Klearchos Kapoutsis/flickr

Saffron is a spice derived from the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus. It takes 70,000 to 250,000 flowers to make a pound of saffron.



Photo: Takis Takatos/Getty Images


vanilla flower

Photo: mmmavocado/flickr

Vanilla beans are the fruit of the vanilla orchid, which is the only orchid that produces an edible fruit.



Photo: Wikimedia Commons



Photo: Wikimedia Commons



Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Brussels sprouts

burssel sprouts

Photo: Geography Photos/Getty Images

Brussels sprouts grow in helical patterns along the sides of stalks that can reach almost 50 inches in height.

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Laura Moss writes about a variety of topics with a focus on animals, science, language and culture. But she mostly writes about cats.

Do you know how your food grows?
You might be surprised to learn how some of your favorite fruits, vegetables and spices are cultivated.