Imagine you are an archaeologist, digging in the sands of Giza, Egypt, trying to shed some light on the mysteries of the last standing member of the original seven wonders of the world, the Great Pyramid. The pyramid is 450 feet tall and made up of 2,300,000 blocks of stone, each weighing an average of 2 1/2 tons.
You enter the pyramid, making your way down a corridor, hoping to discover a bejeweled crown or the mummified remains of a pharaoh. Instead you find... radishes. That's right. On the corridor's wall are hieroglyphics that record the lives of the slaves that built the pyramid and the enormous amount of radishes they ate on a daily basis (along with onions and garlic). Are you disappointed with your discovery? Don't be. In its own way, it's just as important as finding a mummy.
The radish is a deceptively low-key vegetable. It seems almost subtle in its approach. Most of its growing is done in private, underground. While the leaves of the radish can be seen above the soil, the root is hidden, swelling to a weight of several pounds (though there is one account from the 1400s of a 100-pound radish). And the taste of a radish is understated as well. At first bland, there is a surprising aftertaste of pepper and spice, especially in the Black and Taebaek varieties. So it stands to reason that while the radish's contribution to the creation of the Great Pyramid may seem small at first glance, it was, in fact, integral and widespread.
It was the 5 th century scribe Herodotus who wrote of the radish-related writings on the pyramid. And there are quite a few more radish recordings and images in other Egyptian ruins dating from roughly the same time period. This means that not only was the radish an extremely important food source during that period but that we are eating the same food as those who built the pyramids. While that doesn't explain the logistics of stacking 2 1/2 ton stones one on top of another or why the Great Pyramid's points directly correspond with the points of the compass, it does do something to demystify the world of the Egyptians. Those who built the pyramids more or less subsisted on a root vegetable that you can find at your local greenmarket. It's something to consider, the next time you bite into a radish. - Ian McCulloch