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Forklore: Tut sweet

Forklore sigMulberries look like blackberries and they taste like blackberries, but they aren't even related. Blackberries belong to the Rosaceae, or rose, family. Mulberries belong to a family of their own, the Moraceae, and they grow on trees.

The idea of berries on a tree 30 feet tall takes a little getting used to, but the black or Persian mulberry (Morus nigra) has been harvested for thousands of years in the Near East and Europe. Many European languages even treat the blackberry as if it were a sort of mulberry. In French, blackberries are called mures de ronce or mures de haie, "bramble" or "hedgerow," mulberries. A few Eastern European languages have borrowed the Persian name, tut (pronounced toot).

There's also a native American mulberry (M. rubra), but its dark-red berries are nowhere near as tasty and they're mostly eaten by birds. Finally, there's the white mulberry (M. alba). People do eat white mulberries; you can buy dried white mulberries in many Iranian markets. They're quite insipid, though.

So why are they eaten at all? Probably because they're practically free, a byproduct of the silk industry. White mulberry trees are primarily grown for their leaves, the preferred food of silkworms.

-- Charles Perry

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