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Vegetable - history, production, trade

Vegetable - history, production, tradeVEGETABLES
The word vegetables is a gastronomic-nutritional word, which usually is referred to different part of a plant that are used in human diet, such as leaves, fruits, roots, sprouts, young trunks. As it is not a scientific botanical word, the meaning of vegetables has changed over the centuries according to culinary trends: in the European culinary traditions vegetables are represented by those parts of plants that are cooked in salted food, excluding grains, many fruits and many spices.
The definition of vegetables can change according to the country considered: a lot of countries, such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden do not include potatoes and other starchy tubers among vegetables, following the recommendations of the WHO, while Norway, for example included also potatoes.
By the way, vegetables are traditionally considered a light , tasty food, rich in water and nutrients, that are able to fill with few calories and to provide our body with all the protective substances contained in them: therefore it is widely recommended to use vegetables in low calorie diets, as they fill quickly with a very low calorie intake, about 20-40 Kcal /100 g in fresh vegetables already peeled and 80 Kcal in potatoes.
Vegetables are used in countless ways, as a main course or as a side to meat, fish and cheese, and also as an ingredient to stuffed food and finally, less often, as a sweet ingredient.
All vegetables, however, have common nutritional characteristics: in fact, they are composed by a high quantity of water, according to the type of vegetables consumed, they usually contain 90-95% of their weight in water and high quantities of food fibres, which fill, slow down the gastric evacuation and improve the intestinal functions. The food fibre, that is the "hard" part of fruit and vegetables, is not energetic or nutritive, as our body is not able to digest it. Despite the fact that the fibre goes through all our intestine, without being absorbed apart from a very small quantity absorbed by the intestinal flora, it is really important for the regulation of different physiological mechanisms of our body. Firstly, the food fibre fills, helping us to eat less and to control our weight thanks to the fact that it creates the sensation of a filled stomach. Moreover, by creating mass in the intestine, the fibre, together with water, helps the intestine to work: the boasted laxative function of vegetables is in fact a consequence of the high content of food fibres in vegetables as they are a fundamental nutritional component to clean and keep safe our intestine.
Finally, fibres help in preventing and controlling diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, because they regulate the absorption of sugars and fats in blood.
As in fruit, in vegetables there are a lot of vitamins (C, A, B1, B2), mineral salts (magnesium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper), phytochemicals (organic compounds of vegetable origins) or phytocompounds: these substances make vegetables fundamental in human diet, as vitamins are necessary to keep the structure of tissues and organs, to synthetize enzymes and hormones and to produce energy from the eaten food. Also selenium and zinc, which help the defence system of our body, are well-represented in vegetables.
A diet rich in fruit and vegetables will therefore be enough to recover the mineral salts that we lose, without using vitamin supplements in pills or drinks.
Vitamins, moreover, help to regenerate new cells in our body: therefore, as our body does not produce them automatically, it is necessary to introduce them through our diet. The fruit and vegetables, richer in carotenes are yellow-orange-red, such as carrots, peppers, pumpkins, oranges, peaches and apricots, and dark green, such spinach. Instead, vitamin C can be found in all fruit and vegetables, but in different quantities according to the time of preservation and to the type of cooking.
Vegetables are also considered to have good antioxidant properties against free radicals: the antioxidant substances have to neutralize free radicals protecting the body against early ageing and against the uprising of different pathologies, among which we have pellagra, scurvy and gout.
Vegetables contain very few proteins and sugars in different quantities: they are energy ready to be consumed, but with the advantage of the presence of fibre that regulates the absorption of sugars in blood, avoiding peaks in glucose.
Vegetables, moreover, contain nearly no starch (apart from potatoes and legumes that are not considered vegetables from a nutritional point of view).

More and more researches confirm that the consumption of fruit and vegetables contributes to prevent cardiovascular diseases (heart attacks and strokes) and cancer: these effects are due to the fact that fruit and vegetables reduce the calorie intake in our diet, replacing other kind of food richer in calories and fats. In fact, the prevention and defence effects of vegetables depends on its consumption.
In order to obtain and exploit at best all the benefits of vegetables, it is recommended to consume at least 5 portions of vegetables and fruits every day, trying not to add too much salt and too many fats in the case of vegetables.
One portion of vegetables weighs on average 250 g. It is important to buy vegetables 2-3 times a week, as after some days many of the nutrients contained in vegetables lose their beneficial properties. It is also possible to consume vegetables as a light snack: vegetables such as carrots, celery, peppers and fennels consumed raw are a nice, crispy and low-calorie snack.
As mentioned above, vegetables can refer to different edible parts of the plant: for example, the edible parts of chards, spinach and salads are the leaves and this kind of vegetables are among the vegetables that are rich in fibres and iron the most; also cabbage, all its varieties, savoy cabbage, cabbage, turnips, contains substances with anticancer protective properties. In beets and carrots, instead, we eat the root. The beet, apart from having a decent quantity of sugars, provides a good intake of folic acid, while carrots are the most rich in carotene, substance that is processed in vitamin A by the body.
Pumpkins, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, cauliflowers, artichokes, turnips tops, broccolis have good quantities of potassium and fibre. Tomatoes and peppers are especially rich in vitamin C and vitamin A.
Onion, garlic, leek, shallot, spring onion are bulbs used since ancient times, as well as food, also as a medicament, and have a descent content of vitamins and mineral salts. Potatoes contain descent quantities of starch, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, iron and vitamin C.
It is important to mention also legumes, which differ from the other vegetables as they contain more proteins and carbohydrates, as well as good quantities of iron and vitamins.
Buying and consuming seasonal vegetables means eating in a correct, healthy and natural way.Nowadays, thanks to contemporary techniques of cultivation and to research that have tried both the cultivation in greenhouses and in the open air, using traditional methods and integrated or organic cultivations, early produces and other out-of-season products are available all over the year. However, consuming vegetables when they are naturally ripen is healthier and less expensive, as it helps to save money in daily grocery shopping too.

If vegetables have to be cooked, it is better not to cook them too much, in order not to lose all the nutritional values: for this reason, it is important to choose very fresh vegetables, varying the variety chosen, to wash them well and to leave them drip, as vegetables ca be contaminated by products of the agriculture or by bacteria in the soil. It is important to cook vegetables in a very big pan, in order to let them have enough space. Is is also suggested not to dress vegetables with too much oil and salt or with different sauces, adding that way dangerous ingredients, such as fats, salt and calories to a healthy food.
The consumption of vegetables was very widespread also in ancient times: the first vegetables were cultivated between 10,000 and 7,000 b.C. in the Near East, in Asia, America and in Europe. The most ancient vegetable gardens can be found at the beginning of the Neolithic era in the area between Middle East and South-West Asia: they were prerogative of women, as they had the task to provide to the seeding and harvesting of roots and fruit for the sustenance of nomad hunters. It is likely that starting from the Neolithic, women selected the wild varieties of legumes, bulbs, tubers that would have been transplanted, cultivated and "improved" in the rudimental vegetable gardens of the first farmers.
During all the ancient times, vegetables (lentils, broad beans, chickpeas, peas, celery, leeks, turnips, carrots and cabbages) were, together with grains, cheese and eggs, a constant presence in the dishes of great people such as Greeks, Etruscans and Romans.
Apicius, a master of the culinary art in the imperial Rome, dedicated the third and the fifth book of his famous "De Re Coquinaria" to vegetables and legumes.
In the Middle Ages, the spread of the cultivation of legumes in Europe starting from the tenth century, was fortunate to prevent the risk of depopulation. In fact, legumes could replace meat very well as a source of proteins and vitamins in the diet of less rich classes.
Thanks to the great discovers started in the XV century by great sailors in new lands, vegetables unknown until then were imported in Europe: for example the tomato, which was adapted to the European climate.
Since then it is proved that a dish made with vegetables, such as oil dip, was a very widespread practice: a triumph of colours thanks to different vegetables, which decorated big trays, firstly only to decorate, but later used also in our diet until today, when the oil dip is considered a starter or a light and tasty side dish to second courses.
Vegetables have acquired more and more importance worldwide: nowadays there are more and more companies that produce vegetables, certified companies for the production of vegetables, producers of vegetables, companies that produce organic vegetables, companies that deal with the trade of vegetables (packaging of vegetables), retailers of vegetables, importers of vegetables, exporters of vegetables and wholesalers of vegetables.


Some people make a difference between vegetables: in fact, talking about vegetables some people refer to the different parts of a plant (such as leaves, root, stem) that can be eaten raw or cooked and that are used in human diet. In this category there are vegetables that are usually cultivated, but also wild vegetables (such as wild radicchio, arugola, etc.), while legumes, grains and some spices and kind of fruits are excluded. Other people talking about vegetables refer to all vegetables coming from the vegetable garden, that is a very large and heterogeneous group of vegetables, including plants, leaves, roots, fruits, flowers, seeds that have common nutritional characteristics, such as the fact of being very digestive and low-calorie. According to the part of the plant used, vegetables are divided in:

- Fruitvegetables: cucumber, zucchini, pumpkins, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes
- Flower vegetables: artichokes, cauliflowers, broccoli, asparagus
- Seed vegetables: legumes
- Leaf vegetables: lettuce, radicchio, endive, borage, spinach, cabbages, chard
- Stem vegetables: celery, fennels, cardoon
- Root vegetables: radish, carrots, beetroots, turnips
- Tuber vegetables: potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes
- Bulb vegetables: onion, garlic, shallot, leek.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in Europe the presence of vegetables in diets (excluding potatoes and legumes) increased in the last 4 decades: European families consume on average 386 g of fruit and vegetables per day, with 166 g of fruit and 220g of vegetables consumed daily.
From the data analysed comes out that South European countries consume more vegetables and fruit than North European countries: in particular, Cyprus is the country where there is the highest consumption of fresh vegetables per day and at the same time it is the country with the lowest consumption of processed vegetables (frozen vegetables, canned vegetables, brine vegetables, dried vegetables and fourth range vegetables).

In Italy, if from 2006 to 2011 the consumption of fruit and vegetables were quite steady, around 8.2 million tons, in 2012 the Italian family consumption were of 8 million tons, 2% lower compared to the previous year and comparable to the data of 2005, when Italy touched the lowest point in the consumption of fruit and vegetables. It is fruit that weighs mainly on this drop in consumption (-2.3% with 4,3 million tons); vegetables, whose consumption is decreasing too, are limiting losses (-1.6% to 3.7 million tons). As to the purchase of vegetables we want to highlight the drop of potatoes (-14%), tomatoes (-19%), carrots (-30%), onions (-30%), eggplants (-10%), artichokes (-61%), chards and green beans with double-digit decreases. On the other hand, it is interesting the growth in the consumption of salads (+12%) and radicchio, while also the consumption of cucumbers (+31%), asparagus (+13%), beans (+69%) and peas (+16%) are increasing. In 2012 the average price for the purchase of fruit and vegetable per family was of about 1.5 euro a day, a data that however does not justify the drop of consumption.
However, the Italian fruit and vegetable sector is still European leader and at the world top for the production of vegetables, with a production value of about 12 billions. On the internal market and abroad Italian fruit and vegetable products cannot stand the more and more strong competition of Spain and of other countries of the Mediterranean basin, as well as of other distant countries, such as Argentina, Chile and New Zealand.
In Europe, the Netherlands are an important commercial partner for the fruit and vegetable companies: in the sector of processed products, in fact, the Netherlands are at the top in the world and, in the exports of vegetables and processed vegetables, they are ranked third in the world, after China and Belgium.

Instead, the volume of the imports of fruit and vegetables by Switzerland has increased of a remarkable 28.9% between January and November 2009, for a volume of fruit imports of 83,900 tons of fruit and 48,936 tons of vegetables.

After Switzerland and Russia, the main non-EU destinations for the exports of fruit and vegetables departing from Europe (data 2010) were Norway (68,717 tons), the United States (35,884 tons), Morocco (27,450 tons), Algeria (26,098 tons) and Belarus (17,358 tons).
In 2012, according to the statistical surveys carried out by Sogemi, the 28% of the fruit and vegetables traded in the fruit and vegetable sector was imported by wholesalers of fruit and vegetables of different European and non-European countries, among which the most important are SPAIN, THE NETHERLANDS, COSTA RICA, GERMANY, MOROCCO, ARGENTINA, SOUTH AFRICA and BRAZIL.

Finally, there are limited data about analysis conducted on the consumption of fruit and vegetables by European children. However a research suggests that 6-24% of the European kids follow the recommendations of the WHO: in particular, the highest consumption of vegetables by children was in Austria and Portugal, while the lowest was in Iceland and Spain, with a preference for raw vegetables or vegetable soups. The increase in the consumption of fruit and vegetables is one of the goals identified in the White Paper of the European Communities on Nutrition issued in 2007, where great interest was put on childhood obesity in Europe: in the final considerations of the White Paper, it is written that a school fruit scheme would be a big step in the right direction. The idea became reality and the big EU project to provide fruit and vegetables to elementary schools started in the school year 2009/2010.

Fruit and vegetables represent, together with other groups of food, the essence of the Mediterranean diet, a diet that has to be promoted and preferred during all the phases of life: both fruit and vegetables play an important role in our diet and their benefits for our health are every day more evident. Phytochemicals, non-nutritious elements contained by plants of vegetables are particularly interesting because they are responsible for the colour of fruit and vegetables and in particular those cultivated in our gardens form a rainbow of different colours and benefits linked to their colour and due to the presence of these special pigments. Each one has his own characteristics, and provides our body with specific benefits, above all as to their ability to protect our body by serious pathologies such as cancer, heart attacks and strokes.
Therefore, we can divide vegetables, as fruit, according to 5 colours: white vegetables, yellow-orange vegetables, red vegetables, green vegetables and violet-blue vegetables.

Let's analyse them one by one:

White vegetables include vegetables such as garlic, cauliflower, onion, fennels, mushrooms, potatoes (even though it cannot be considered a vegetable from a nutritional point of view), leek, white turnip and shallot..
These vegetables contain substances that have positive effects on our health, such as allicin, which reduces cholesterol in blood and blood pressure. Some vegetables included in this category, such as bananas and potatoes, are very rich in mineral sources such as potassium and have anti-cancer properties.
According to a study conducted by some researchers of the the University of Wageningen, the consumption of white vegetables is suggested to prevent strokes: for about ten years these researchers tested a diet rich in pale food on a sample of twenty thousands volunteers; the results showed that every 25 g of white fruit and vegetables consumed the risk of heart attacks and strokes decreased of about 9%.

Yellow-orange vegetables include type of vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, peppers and pumpkins.
Yellow and orange vegetables are rich in carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, present for example in carrots and pumpkins, that has a strong antioxidant and pro-vitamin action, because it is converted in vitamin A by our body, protecting therefore our cells against the damage caused by free radicals. These substances have part in the growth, reproduction and preserving of tissues, helping to keep healthy eyes and mucous membranes. According to experts, food rich in carotenoids, such as yellow-orange vegetables, can reduce the risk of cancer and cardiac pathologies, as well as improve immune system functions.
Apart from being rich in carotenoids, yellow/orange vegetables contain a high quantity of flavonoids, which help the gastrointestinal functions, as well as prevent degenerative diseases such as ALS, and defend our body against free radicals.

Red vegetables include vegetables such as red cabbages, red onions, red peppers, tomatoes, rhubarbs, red turnips; these vegetables reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases protecting blood vessels and improving also memory.
Red vegetables owe their colour to the presence of pigments such as lycopene and anthocyanins: lycopene, present for example in tomatoes, is a carotenoid that helps to oppose the damaging effects of free radicals and seems to be the direct responsible for the reduction of the risk of many type of cancer, such as ovarian and breast cancer, but above all of the prostate cancer.
Anthocyanins are instead molecules responsible for the red colour of fruit and vegetables: they are very useful to oppose capillary fragility, in preventing arteriosclerosis and in improving the visual function. They act as powerful antioxidants in protecting our cells from possible damages and defending our heart health.

Green vegetables are the most numerous in nature and include vegetables such as, asparagus, broccoli, artichokes, Brussels sprout, green cabbages, Chinese cabbages, cucumbers, watercress, endive, lettuce, green peppers, peas, arugula, spinach, savoy cabbage and zucchini.
The compounds responsible for the green colour are called glucosinolates: they are a large group of derivatives from the amino acids containing sulfur, and they have been linked to reduced frequency of some kind of cancer. Glucosinolates can be found in broccoli, in cauliflowers, in Brussels sprout and cabbage.
However, the green colour of fruit and vegetables is caused also by the presence of a pigment called chlorophyll.
Furthermore, leaves of green vegetables have a high content of magnesium, iron and folic acid, and ascorbic acid or vitamin C which help the absorption of iron. In particular, magnesium has an active role in the metabolism of sugars and proteins, regulating the transmission of the nerve impulse and blood pressure.
The content of folic acid and folates is important for the protection of foetus in pregnancy: in fact, is has been proved that the regular consumption of green fruit and vegetables helps against the risk of an incomplete closure of the spine of the foetus.
Some of the vegetables included in this group, such as spinach, peas, green peppers, cucumbers and celery, contain lutein, a substance that, together with zeaxanthin, helps in particular to preserve eyes health.

Violet/blue vegetables include vegetables such as violet carrots, eggplants, radicchio and violet potatoes.
They are very important for our health, as they reduce the risk of cardiovascular pathologies and cancer; they contain also important substances for the urinary function, for eyes and for the structure of capillary vessels. Moreover, all violet fruit and vegetables are rich in fibres.
These vegetables are violet or blue because they contain natural pigments called anthocyanins: they act as powerful antioxidants towards cells of our body and defend us from the risk of cancer, strokes and cardiac pathologies.
Violet vegetables contain also nutritive substances called carotenoids, which are responsible for the prevention of cataract, of the ageing of the skin and of neurodegeneration.
Radicchio is rich in vitamin C, as well as having an antioxidant action and participating in the formation of carnitine and collagen. Apart from the compounds that give to it its characteristic bitter taste, radicchio contains also good quantities of beta-carotene, precursor of vitamin A, which intervenes in growth, in reproduction and in preserving tissues, in the immune function and in the vision mechanism, and contains potassium.
It is important to consume fruit and vegetables of any colour, possibly varying, as each category of vegetables provides specific benefits to our body.
The World Health Organization recommends the consumption of at least 400g of fruit and vegetables daily to prevent chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and obesity: in order to reach this quantity, we can combine different colours of fruit and vegetables, obtaining a rainbow of savours and colours for the benefit of our psychophysical health.

Nowadays there are many fruit and vegetable companies and agricultural entrepreneurs, working in the sector of vegetables, fresh vegetables, seasonal vegetables, and of products derived from the processing of vegetables.
In particular, as mentioned above, the processing of vegetables, the trade of vegetables, the production of vegetables and the sale of vegetables are more and more profitable activities for the fruit and vegetable sector: there are certified fruit and vegetable companies for the production of vegetables and other fruit and vegetable products, that try to keep the best requirements for the cultivation of vegetables, in order to obtain the very strict European certification.

Thanks to our yearbooks FruitNEWSLETTER and MEC Ortofrutticolo (and their digital versions) you can easily contact fruit and vegetable companies and obtain information about them.
In particular you can find a list of companies that:
produce vegetables (certified companies for vegetables, companies that produce specific varieties of vegetables, fruit and vegetable companies, companies that produce organic vegetables)
deal with the trade of vegetables, such as retailers of vegetables, wholesalers of vegetables, import/export of vegetables (importers of vegetables and exporters of vegetables) and operators of the wholesale of vegetables.

Today, we give you the opportunity to access to zipmec.eu, the biggest search engine for fruit and vegetable companies all over the world, where you can obtain information on:

  • companies that produce vegetables
  • certified companies for the production of vegetables (certified companies for the production of vegetables with the P.G.I. indication and certified companies for the production of vegetables with the "Indicazione geografica tipica)
  • companies that produce organic vegetables
  • companies that deal with the trade of vegetables (packaging of fruit and vegetable products)
  • retailers of vegetables
  • wholesalers of vegetables
  • importers of vegetables
  • exporters of vegetables
  • operators that deal with the wholesale of vegetables

Easily accessible and always up-to date.

It is a list of companies for the production of vegetables, retailing of vegetabales, sale of vegetalbes, import/export of vegetables, wholesale of vegetables, and in general of any company present on the fruit and vegetable market that is interested in the production and trade of vegetables.
Apart from companies involved in the European fruit and vegetable sector, of course you can find also lists and information on any company of the world fruit and vegetable market.

MEC Ortofrutticolo describes many varieties of vegetables: for each specific variety, it indicates the morphological and agronomic characteristics, with a picture of the product.

For each variety of vegetables MEC Ortofrutticolo shows a list of companies that deal with that specific variety, such as producers of vegetables, retailers of vegetables, wholesalers of vegetables, importers of vegetables and exporters of vegetables, specifying for each fruit and vegetable company its address and any website to contact the producers and the retailer of vegetables and organic vegetables directly.