In a culture that prizes youth, it’s no surprise that we’ll pay twice as much for a half-size fruit or vegetable if it’s called a “baby.” But are those Lilliputian Brussels sprouts and their ilk actually young? And do they have a special taste?
What to Look For
If you’re a fan of canned baby corn, best known for its roles in Chinese takeout and the movie Big, then the fresh infant ears are for you. Less than three inches long once shucked, they have a crisp, refreshing, delicately corn flavor. Blanch and toss them into salads, or quarter lengthwise and stir-fry ($10 per pound at Dean & DeLuca).
Baby papaya is not immature papaya but a smaller, sweeter variety currently coming in from Brazil. When ripened until soft and hit with a squeeze of lime, this pear-size fruit proves that papaya is not insipid ($4 each at Dean & DeLuca).
If you’ve ever attempted to amuse a child by calling Brussels sprouts baby cabbages, how are you going to explain baby Brussels sprouts? Once the outer leaves have been trimmed, this small mature type imported from Holland is about the size of a hazelnut. They’re small enough to cook through when pan-roasted, and they have a firm texture and sweet, nutty flavor. Reduce the cooking time and use them in place of regular-size sprouts — they make this salad even more addictive (available at gourmet markets).
The World’s Tiniest Popcorn — the name is followed, on the bag, by “We think” — comes from a native American corn that grows to about two inches and yields tender yet crisp popcorn about half the size of the movie-theater standard. Try the tangy white-Cheddar flavor ($3.50 per four-and-a-half-ounce bag at Dean & DeLuca).
This Just In
Kiwiberries — a.k.a. souris vegetale (that’s “vegetable mouse” in French), a.k.a. baby kiwis — have smooth, edible, dark-green skin, and juicy flesh studded with tiny black seeds; their sweetness is offset by tart berry and guava flavors. With loads of vitamin C, these fruits, just coming in from New Zealand, make an excellent snack. Ripen on the counter for a day or two, when they darken and yield to gentle pressure ($4.59 per four and a half ounces at the Manhattan Fruit Exchange). — Zoe Singer