It’s a simple lesson from science class that plants need air, water, light and nutrients to grow. Mexico’s abundance of sunshine is particularly ideal for plenty of sun-loving fruits and vegetables. But there are several edible plants that bend the rules of science a bit, naturally thriving with little or no sunlight.
The king of the shade-loving plants is the white asparagus. White asparagus gets its color (or lack thereof) from the way it’s planted—no sunlight is allowed to reach its spears. Soil is mounded up and around the spears or planted in black plastic tunnels. Its flavor is milder than green asparagus and the spears are tender.
Nutritionally, asparagus packs a punch of vitamins A, B6 and C, along with iron, potassium, riboflavin, niacin and thiamin. It’s also high in antioxidants and fiber.
Low-maintenance and full of nutrients, sprouts do much better in low light and, similar to white asparagus, white sprouts are germinated in complete darkness. Sprouts can grow in the bottom of a jar from seeds that have been soaked in water. The seeds are drained two times a day until the sprouts grow. This will typically take about five days, and they can be harvested at about 7 cm in length. Sprouts are a good source of vitamin C, K and folate.
A word of caution, however – raw sprouts have been associated with foodborne illness due to improper cultivation or storage, allowing bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli to flourish. Following strict guidelines in growing your own sprouts can allow you to eat them safely at home, though bacteria can still thrive. One way to completely eliminate the risk is to cook sprouts thoroughly before eating.
Mushrooms—actually a fungus—don’t conduct photosynthesis, so they thrive in places that are dark and moist, drawing their nutrients from nearby plants. Oyster mushrooms, for example, grow well in shredded straw and require relatively low maintenance. When starting from mushroom spawn, fully mature mushrooms will be ready to harvest in as little as three weeks. Mushrooms are an excellent source of fiber and potassium.
The Future of Grow-in-the-Dark Produce
Recently, scientists have been toying with “grow-in-dark-plants” by manipulating the phytochrome, a light-sensing molecule that tells plants when to germinate, grow, make food, flower and age. Keeping phytochromes active in darkness presents the opportunity to grow seasonal crops year-round, such as spinach, which normally flowers only in the summer instead of producing leaves. This offers some amazing possibilities in the future. For now, enjoy some delicious asparagus, sprouts or mushrooms with your next meal and marvel at their path from darkness to your table!