Center for Crop Diversification Crop ProfileEthnic Vegetables: HispanicCheryl Kaiser1 and Matt Ernst2IntroductionThe term ‘Hispanic’ (or ‘Latino’) is generallyused in the United States as a designation forSpanish speaking peoples originating fromMexico, Central America, South America, PuertoRico, and Cuba. This culturally diverse groupnow represents the largest and fastest growingminority in the U.S.The Hispanic influence on American cuisine isparticularly evident in Mexican, Tex-Mex, andsimilar cooking styles. Mexican food is currentlyone of the most popular ethnic cuisines in theU.S. Mexican entrées and ingredients can befound in major grocery chains, as well as diningestablishments that range from street food andfast food to fine dining. Additionally, there isan interest among consumers in purchasing thefresh, often unique, ingredients required forpreparing ethnic dishes at home. Some of the morecommon vegetables and herbs used in Hispanicdishes, such as cilantro and jalapeno peppers, arealready grown in Kentucky. However, there arealso a number of other traditional and specialtyHispanic crops that could be could be producedand marketed here, both to Hispanics and nonHispanics.Marketing and Market OutlookThere is a growing demand forethnic fruits, vegetables, andherbs, particularly in larger cities.One obvious reason for this is theincreased ethnic diversity of these12Habanero peppersareas. Many ethnic groups, including Hispanics,have a high per capita consumption of freshproduce. Also contributing to the increaseddemand for ethnic produce is a greater emphasison healthy foods and the public’s seeminglyinsatiable desire for variety in their diets.The increased growth of Kentucky’s Hispanicpopulation, along with these other factors, presentan opportunity for local growers to develop aproduct mix aimed at these markets.Many Hispanics have a tradition of purchasingtheir food ingredients from open air markets,which would seem to make farmers markets anideal outlet for offering ethnic crops. Growerscould investigate adding traditionally Hispanicvegetables to their roadside stand mix, as well.Restaurants, particularly those specializing inMexican or vegetarian dishes,may be interested in purchasingfresh, locally grown ingredients.Hispanic products, along with otherspecialty or ethnic vegetables,Cheryl Kaiser is a former Extension Associate with the Center for Crop Diversification.Matt Ernst is an independent contractor with the Department of Agricultural Economics.Cooperative Extension Service Agriculture and Natural Resources Family and Consumer Sciences 4-H Youth Development Community and Economic Development
could be added to a community supportedagriculture (CSA) share. Growers may also trydirect-marketing their products to ethnic grocersand neighborhoods in large cities.A relatively small volume of each vegetable typeis in demand at any one time or place, so thismarket can easily become saturated. To guardagainst market saturation, the grower shoulddevelop a special niche by supplying fresh, tendercrops harvested at their peak, packaging themattractively, and choosing a variety of clients andmarket mixes. Freshness of produce is the key togaining the Hispanic market.Some of the challenges of marketing thesevegetables to Hispanic customers includeidentifying the crops preferred by the targetmarket and presenting the crop in the correctdialect for the buyer. Hispanic food preferencesvary from country to country and region to region.For example, while some Latin American culturesprimarily use black beans in their cooking, othersprefer pinto beans, and still others predominantlycook with red beans. As with any new market, thebest way to determine what to grow is to find outwhat the customer wants. Additionally, the sameingredient or crop may be identified by differentSpanish names, depending on the specific regionor country. Providing signage in Spanish will beimportant in attracting Hispanic buyers. Firsthand knowledge of the culture, customs, andlanguage will be extremely valuable both inproducing and marketing these products to thisparticular consumer base.Non-Hispanic customers are also a potentialmarket, especially consumer segments that areinterested in preparing ethnic cuisines at home.Farmers markets and community supportedagriculture are great venues for introducingunusual fresh produce and value-added products.However, consumers unfamiliar with yourselections may be more comfortable makinga purchase when preparation instructions and/or recipes are provided. Supplying educationalinformation about the vegetable’s name, whereand how it is grown, and other backgroundinformation can also help promote unusualcrops to non-Hispanics. Preparation and cookingdemonstrations, including presentations with thefarmer who grew the crop, can help generateseasonal and unusual product sales at groceryretailers.Growers interested in producing any ethnic orspecialty vegetable should always start smalland test-market the crop before investing muchtime or money in production. Larger plantingsshould not be attempted unless the grower hasan established market. To discover the market fora new crop like Hispanic vegetables, producersshould first communicate with potentialconsumers to determine their preferences forproducts. Cultivating a local market for a newcrop, such as an ethnic vegetable variety, oftenbecomes a sort of partnership between theproducer and his or her target consumer.Production considerationsPotential cropsCurrently the most common Kentucky-producedvegetables used in Hispanic cooking includehot peppers, corn, Roma tomatoes, winter andsummer squashes, cilantro, sweet potatoes, andonions. Tomatillo, a tomato-like fruit that is thekey ingredient in salsas and chili sauces, has beenmarketed in Western and Central Kentucky. Drybeans are common in many Hispanic cultures,but it will be important to identify the specifictype in demand by the target market.The crops listed in Table 1 have been identifiedas popular ingredients in Hispanic cooking.These particular vegetables and herbs may havepotential for Kentucky production based oncultivation and hardiness information gleanedfrom the Internet. Talking to potential Hispaniccustomers about the crops they would like topurchase could provide additional ideas. Keepin mind that crops native to countries south ofthe border may not be hardy in Kentucky. Sincelocal research data on many of the crops inTable 1 is lacking, growers should start small todetermine which crops are suitable for their area.It is advisable to evaluate different cultivars and/
or seed sources over multiple seasons and totest market the crops before attempting largerplantings.Site selection and plantingA number of Hispanic crops belong to botanicalfamilies that are well-known to Kentuckygrowers, and include cucurbits, legumes, andsolanaceous plants. Some ethnic vegetables aremerely a different subspecies or cultivar of cropscommonly grown in North America. Culturalrequirements for these closely related crops areoften very similar to traditional vegetable crops.Nevertheless, growers may need to rely on theirown on-farm trials to identify the best productionmethods for these specialty crops.In general, choose a site that is well-drainedand warms up quickly in the spring. Avoid lowlying fields that are subject to late frosts and highhumidity. Cold-sensitive crops should not beplanted until all danger of frost has passed andthe soil has warmed sufficiently. Transplants canbe grown in a greenhouse structure or hotbed,both for direct sales or on-farm use.Some crops require a continuous supplyof moisture, especially during fruit-set anddevelopment. UK research has reported greateryields, increased earliness, and a cleaner harvestwhen growing most vegetable crops on raisedbeds with black plastic mulch and drip irrigation.The moisture levels under the plastic must becarefully monitored when using this system.Pest managementDisease and insect pressure for ethnic vegetablescan vary depending on the crop, the cultivar,and the season. Chemical control methods maybe limited because few pesticides are registeredfor many of these specialty crops. Integrated pestmanagement (IPM) strategies, including frequentscouting to monitor pests, may be needed toprevent or reduce losses. Controlling weeds,sanitation, following a good rotation system,and the use of beneficial insects can aid in pestcontrol.Harvest and storageFreshness is the key in marketing Hispanicvegetables; therefore they should be harvestedat their peak. Limiting the market radius to easytraveling distance will help ensure the freshestspecialty produce. Little storage time is neededfor crops to be sold within a few days of harvest.Labor requirementsMany traditional Hispanic vegetables areproduced using methods similar to comparablevegetables already grown in Kentucky. Producerscan refer to Center for Crop Diversification cropprofiles to estimate labor requirements for thesespecific vegetables. Plasticulture will add eightto 10 hours more per acre for the post-harvestremoval and disposal of the plastic.A producer often begins with small amounts ofa new crop for a niche market. Small amountsof these specialty vegetables can potentially beadded to existing plots using similar culturaltechniques. This could help minimize additionallabor requirements.Economic considerationsInitial investments include land preparation andpurchase of seed or transplants. Producers needto closely manage costs of key inputs, especiallyseed, when producing specialty vegetables.Seed for some ethnic vegetables can be moreexpensive, so purchasing a variety that does notmeet a customer’s preference can be a costlymiscalculation. Additional costs are incurredwith the installation of an irrigation system andplastic mulch.In addition to potentially higher seed costs,producers may incur greater labor times andprices lower than comparable products. Forexample, the returns over total costs per 100-footby 4-foot bed of Roma tomatoes will likely fallin the 200 range. With good management anddirect marketing, returns from the same-sizedbed of an heirloom tomato variety can approach 500. This is due to greater harvest times and(usually) lower prices for Roma tomatoes.
Thinking carefully about how the specialtyethnic crop could fit into existing productionsystems can help minimize additional productionexpense and reduce risk. For example, specialtygreens could be added at the end or alongsideexisting beds of greens, benefiting from similarweed and pest control methods. Starting with asmaller production area also keeps a grower fromout-producing his or her market demand in thefirst year.Pricing a new or specialty crop is also a keyconsideration. Producers should access availablewholesale and retail market prices for Hispanicvegetables to determine what price the marketcan bear. Wholesale prices for many vegetablesare reported daily or weekly through the USDAAgricultural Marketing Service (AMS) in their Fruitand Vegetable Market News. Visiting Hispanic foodstores or specialty retailers can also provide producerswith an idea of what prices to ask for specialty crops.Table 1. Selected vegetables and herbs that are used in Hispanic cooking and may have potential for Kentucky production.Common NameBotanical NameFamily NamePartsused/eatenAjí dulceCapsicum chinenseSolanaceaeAmaranth, vegetableAmaranthusgangeticusAmaranthaceae GreensPhaseolus vulgarisFabaceaeDry seedsVigna sesquipedalisFabaceaeDry seedsBeans: Pinto, Red, andBlack (Turtle)Beans: YardlongCalabazaCucurbita moschata CucurbitaceaeCalabacita or Calabacin Cucurbita FabaceaelongirostrataCoriandrum sativum ApiaceaeCorn, black sweetZea maysPoaceaeFruitCorn, flourZea maysPoaceaeFruitCulantroEryngium foetidumApiaceaeLeavesEggplantSolanum melongena SolanaceaeChipilínAlternate names & NotesA sweet pepper, called ají dulce in Cuba,ají gustoso or ají cachucha in DominicanRepublicAlso called leafy amaranth; cultivarsgrown for leaves instead of grainHard shelled winter squashAlso grey squash; a summer squashsimilar to zucchiniLeavesLeavesFruitHerbKernels are soft and starchier than othertypes; includes blue cornHerb; may need to start in a greenhouseSome Hispanic groups prefer pinkcultivars with white striationsAmaranthaceae LeavesHighly mbrosioidesMelothria scabraCucurbitaceaeFruitHot peppersCapsicum e; C.berlandieri sub sp.NuttaliaeAlso called Mexican sour picklee.g. Chilaca, Chili, Chile de arbol,Guajillo, Habanero, Jalapeno, Poblano,SerranoAmaranthaceaeLeaves;seed headsAlso called Aztec spinachJiloSolanum giloSolanaceaeFruitNew Zealand spinachTetragoniatetragoniodesPreferred by Brazilians, resembleseggplantAizoaceaeLeavesHeat tolerant spinachEpazote
Table 1 (cont’d). Selected vegetables and herbs that are used in Hispanic cooking and may have potential forKentucky production.Common NameBotanical NameFamily NameParts Used/EatenPeanutsAbelmoschusesculentusAllium cepaPorophyllumruderale.Arachis hypogenaPericonTagetes lucidaAsteraceaePurslanePortulaca oleraceaPortulacaceaeSeedLeaves &flowersLeavesSquash blossomsSquash, winter (seealso Calabaza)Cucurbita spp.CucurbitaceaeFlowersCucurbita moschataCucurbitaceaeFruitSteviaStevia rebaudianaAsteraceaeLeavesSweetpotatoIpomea batatasConvolvulaceaeRootTomatillosPhysalis aceaeFruitPortulaca s, RomaVerdolagaSelected ResourcesAlternate Names & y frost sensitiveFabaceaeAlso called Mexican tarragon Vegetable Production Guide for CommercialGrowers, ID-36 (University of Kentucky) http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/id/id36/id36.htm WorldCrops for Northern United States(University of Massachusetts website withcomprehensive listing of ethnic crops)www.worldcrops.org Ethnic and Specialty Vegetables Handbook(Maryland Cooperative Extension, /docs/EthnicVegHandbook2008.pdfCalled verdolagaAlso called sweet leaf; a sweetenernative to South AmericaParticularly white fleshed/dry fleshedcultivarsAlso called husk tomatoPreferred for their meatier textureand lower water contentAlso called common purslane;cultivated varieties have a moreupright growth habit Ethnic Vegetables. Cornell UniversityVegetable Program.http://cvp.cce.cornell.edu/crop.php?id 13 Specialty and Minor Crops Handbook, 2ndedition (University of California, 1998)Information on the handbook lable for purchase at: http://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/Details.aspx?itemNo 3346Reviewed by Shawn Wright, UK Horticulture SpecialistPhoto courtesy of National Garden BureauSeptember 2016For additional information, contact your local County Extension agentEducational programs of Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed,religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, or physical or mental disability.
ethnic fruits, vegetables, and . herbs, particularly in larger cities. One obvious reason for this is the increased ethnic diversity of these areas. Many ethnic groups, including Hispanics, have a high per capita consumption of fresh produce. Also contributing to the increased demand for ethnic produce is a greater emphasis