On your pursuit to eating a more plant-based diet, which new plant foods are you adding to your food list? Try these five plant foods—hemp, tempeh, kohlrabi, jicama, and okra—to open your horizons to healthful, diverse eating. While these plant-based foods have been part of traditional diets for eons—they may be new to your kitchen, offering an exciting opportunity to revel in their flavors and textures.
Are you eating more plant-forward? Good for you! But it might be time to take a good look at your pantry and your plant-based foods list to see if it could use some expansion. If you’re eating the same carrots, peas, and potatoes, maybe it’s time to open your horizons, increase the diversity of your diet, and get out of your comfort zone just a little bit. These five foods may be a little less familiar to you, but they are all nutrient-rich, delicious plant foods that have been part of traditional diets for centuries, and they are worth including in your diet more often, no matter what your eating style. I’m talking hemp seeds, tempeh, okra, jicama, and kohlrabi! Learn more about these flavorful plant foods, as well as their nutrition benefits and recipes for cooking them in this simple guide.
5 New Plant Based Foods to Eat Now
1. Hemp Seeds
What are hemp seeds? Hemp seeds (also called hemp hearts) are small, pale-beige to dark brown seeds that come from the Cannabis sativa plant. They form the edible part of the hemp plant, and have a mild, nutty flavor. The de-hulled or shelled hemp seeds are known as hemp hearts.
What are the health benefits of hemp seeds? Hemp seeds are very nutritious. They are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and are also a great source of high quality protein, since they provide all essential amino acids. They contain gamma-linolenic acid, which has been linked to reduced inflammation and decreased risk of heart disease.3 Whole hemp seeds are also a good source of soluble and insoluble fiber, which help to regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels and aid in digestion.4
Hemp Seed Nutrition
1 ounce (about 3 tablespoons) of hulled hemp seeds contains:
47 g protein
495 mg phosphorus
360 mg potassium
4 g polyunsaturated fatty acids
6 g monounsaturated fatty acids
How do you use hemp seeds? Hemp seeds can be eaten raw, cooked or roasted. You can add them to smoothies and salads, or sprinkle them onto cereal or yogurt. Hemp seeds can also be used as cold-pressed seed oil, hemp milk and plant-based protein powder. Prepare your next power bowl with some hemp seeds and baked tofu using this Tofu Kale Power Bowl with Tahini Dressing recipe.
What is okra? Okra, also known as gumbo or “lady’s fingers,” is an herbaceous plant from the mallow family. The fruit or pod is hairy at the base, with dark-colored seeds. Okra contains large amounts of mucilage, which gives okra its characteristic thick consistency.
What are the health benefits of okra? Okra seeds contain high-quality proteins and unsaturated fat, and have also been shown to have anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties.5 Okra flowers are also good sources of flavonoids and polysaccharides and are involved in regulating the body’s immune system.6
10 pieces (40 g) of dried okra contain:
3 g protein
150 mg calcium
2 mg vitamin C
400 IU vitamin A
How do you use okra? Okra can be used in soups and stews, or as a fried or boiled vegetable. Experience okra in this classic Red Bean and Okra Jambalaya recipe with a bold twist.
What is tempeh? Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian food made from fermented soybeans and grains that have been soaked and cooked. It has a dry, firm and chewy texture, with a slightly nutty flavor. It is usually formed into a patty or compact cake. During the fermentation process, enzymes are produced that may improve the availability of minerals and aid in digestion of sugars. Fermentation also enhances the vitamin B content of tempeh, which improves nutritional properties.7
What are tempeh health benefits? Tempeh is an excellent source of calcium and protein, as it contains all of the essential amino acids. It is also high in soluble fiber, isoflavones, and essential fatty acids.8 In fact, isoflavones, which are active biological compounds, have been found to have antioxidant activity. The fermentation of tempeh may also make it is easier to digest compared to non-fermented soy foods or whole soybeans. Recent research shows that the nutrients in tempeh are linked to decreased risk of heart disease and stroke, osteoporosis, cancer and digestive disorders, as well as managing symptoms of menopause.8
One cup of tempeh contains:
20 g protein
111 mg calcium
266 mg phosphorus
412 mg potassium
3 g polyunsaturated fatty acids
How to use Tempeh? Tempeh is usually fried, boiled, steamed or roasted, and is a great alternative to animal products in dishes like stews, stir-fries, and noodles. Try this tempeh-inspired Sesame Tempeh Grain Bowl recipe for a delicious bowl of brown rice and a variety of vegetables, including marinated tempeh, topped with tahini ginger dressing. And give tempeh bacon a try!
What is jicama? Jicama (Pachyrhizus erosus), also known as yam bean, is a root vegetable that has a crispy texture and sweet, starchy taste. The juicy, white flesh inside the jicama root is the only edible part of the entire plant; its seeds and leaves are toxic.
What are the health benefits of jicama? Jicama is rich in certain soluble fibers, such as fructooligosaccharides and inulin. Inulin has been shown to improve blood glucose levels by slowing the entry of glucose into the bloodstream.9 Some studies have found that jicama has immunomodulatory activity and has been linked to reduced risk of colon cancer.10 One study found that the effect of jicama extract significantly lowered glucose and HgbA1c levels in mice given the jicama extract compared to the control group that was fed a standard diet.10
One cup of raw jicama contains:
4 g fiber
195 mg potassium
3 mg vitamin C
16 µg folate
27 IU vitamin A
How to use jicama? Jicama is usually eaten as a raw vegetable in salads, sandwiches, or crudités; or as yam bean flour. Try this simple, refreshing Radish Jicama Salad with Lemon Cumin Vinaigrette made with crunchy radishes and jicama, topped with a drizzle of olive oil vinaigrette.
What is kohlrabi? Kohlrabi is a cruciferous vegetable with edible, leafy stems. It has a thick, pale green to purple skin, and is pale-yellow on the inside. The smaller bulbs are used more often in cooking since they are more tender and flavorful, but the large ones can also be used. Learn more about kohlrabi here.
What are kohlrabi health benefits? Kohlrabi juices in both purple red and green kohlrabi have been shown to have strong antioxidant effects, which can be attributed to its high vitamin C content.1 One study found that red kohlrabi had twice the amount of phenolic content (polyphenols) than green kohlrabi and had significant antioxidant effects.2
One cup of raw kohlrabi contains:
9 g fiber
472 mg potassium
62 mg phosphorus
7 mg vitamin C
49 IU vitamin A
How to use kohlrabi? There are a variety of ways to eat kohlrabi, such as in fresh slaws or dips, in soups or stews, in stir-fries or fritters, or simply roasted. It can also be boiled, steamed, sautéed, or fried.
For other tips on using plant foods, check out these guides:
Main image: Sesame Tempeh Grain Bowl
Written by Mireille Najjar, Dietetic Intern, with Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN
- Warne LGG. 1942. Kohlrabi as a source of vitamin C. Br Med J. 1:387. DOI: 1136/bmj.1.4237.387.
- Jung et al. Anti-Diabetic and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Green and Red Kohlrabi Cultivars (Brassica oleraceagongylodes). Preventive Nutrition and Food Science 2014; 19(4): 281-290. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3746/pnf.2014.19.4.281
- Chang et al. Gamma-Linolenic Acid Inhibits Inflammatory Responses by Regulating NF-κB and AP-1 Activation in Lipopolysaccharide-Induced RAW 264.7 Macrophages. Inflammation. February 2010,Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 46–57.
- Callaway JC (2004) Hempseed as a nutritional resource: An overview Euphytica 140: 65–72. doi: 10.1007/s10681-004-4811-6
- Yang Luo, Hong-Xin Cui, An Jia, Shan-Shan Jia, and Ke Yuan, “The Protective Effect of the Total Flavonoids ofAbelmoschus esculentus Flowers on Transient Cerebral Ischemia-Reperfusion Injury Is due to Activation of the Nrf2-ARE Pathway,” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, vol. 2018, Article ID 8987173, 11 pages, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/8987173.
- Zheng, T. Zhao, W. Feng et al., “Purification, characterization and immunomodulating activity of a polysaccharide from flowers ofAbelmoschus esculentus,” Carbohydrate Polymers, vol. 106, pp. 335–342, 2014.
- Irene, T., H. Liem, Keith H. Steinkraus and Ted C. Cronk, 1977. Production of Vitamin B-12 in Tempeh, a Fermented Soybean Food. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, pp: 773-776.
- Furlan et al.Chemical composition of tempeh from soybean cultivars specially developed for human consumption. Ciênc. Tecnol. Aliment. [online]. 2012, vol.32, n.3, pp.613-620. Epub Aug 07, 2012. ISSN 0101-2061. https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0101-20612012005000085.
- Yu K, Ke MY, Li WH, Zhang SQ, Fang XC. The impact of soluble dietary fibre on gastric emptying, postprandial blood glucose and insulin in patients with type 2 diabetes. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2014; 23(2):210-8.
- Park CJ, Lee H-A, Han J-S. Jicama (Pachyrhizus erosus) extract increases insulin sensitivity and regulates hepatic glucose in C57BL/Ksj-db/db mice.Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition. 2016;58(1):56-63. doi:10.3164/jcbn.15-59.