kudzu

Pronunciation: [KOOD-zoo]

It wasn't until 1876 that this fast-growing legume-family plant was introduced to the United States, where it's used primarily as pasturage and for erosion control. Kudzu, however, has been a popular food in Japan and China for thousands of years. Most of the plant can be eaten—the tender leaves and stems can be cooked as with other greens. However, it's the tuberous roots (which have been known to weigh up to 450 pounds and reach 7 feet in length) that offer this plant's real premium. These roots are dehydrated and pulverized, and it is this starchy kudzu powder that is used culinarily in myriad ways—from thickening soups and sauces to dredging foods to be deep-fried. Kudzu powder can be found in Asian markets and some natural food stores. It's high in fiber, protein and vitamins A and D.

From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

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