When you walk through the produce aisle of your local grocery store, it all looks familiar. But some of the fruits and vegetables bear no resemblance to their ancestors from years ago. Many don’t taste the same either. We can give credit to our ancestors who wanted bigger, tastier, more attractive foods.
GMOs, genetically modified organisms, are not all that new as our food has been optimized for much longer than we realize.
Carrots weren’t always orange
For centuries, almost all carrots were yellow, white, or purple. But by the 17th century, most of these versatile vegetables turned orange. It may have to do with Dutch politics, as Dutch growers at the time were cultivating orange carrots as a tribute to William of Orange – who led the fight for Dutch independence – and capturing the color with a thousand years of yellow, white and purple carrots becoming history extinguished.
Some experts doubt that orange carrots even existed before the 16th century, but they now form the basis of most commercial growers around the world. Presumably, crossbreeding between eastern (purple), western (white, red), and perhaps wild carrots led to the emergence of the orange carrot we know today.
Regardless of origin, there are over 40 different types of carrots today, and nearly all are orange.
Tomatoes weren’t always red
Tomatoes are another item that has changed, and historically people have not been quick to eat them. Early varieties of the plant had tiny green or yellow fruits and were used in cooking by the Aztecs, with explorers later bringing them back to Spain and Italy.
Tomatoes, a member of the deadly nightshade family, were mistaken for poison — and the leaves really are — by Europeans who were wary of their bright, glossy fruits. Native versions were small, like cherry tomatoes, and most likely yellow rather than red.
Although the tomato is a staple in these countries today, it is said to have been feared in the 17th century and earned the nickname “poison apple” because people thought aristocrats died after eating it. But it turns out it was the acid in tomatoes, leaching lead from their fancy pewter plates, that caused lead poisoning.
The old argument is, are they a fruit or a vegetable? The botanical classification is that tomatoes are fruits. Botanically, a fruit would have at least one seed and would grow from the flower of the plant. Given these definitions, tomatoes are classified as fruit because they follow these criteria.
The culinary classification is that tomatoes are vegetables. A nutritionist or chef would use the culinary classification system that defines fruits and vegetables in a slightly different way based on how the plants are used and their flavor profiles.
Cooks etc. would say that a ‘vegetable’ is usually tougher in texture, tastes milder and often needs to be cooked in dishes such as stews, soups or stir-fries, while a ‘fruit’ is soft in texture and is either sweet or tart often Enjoyed raw or in desserts or jams. Tomatoes can be enjoyed juicy, sweet and raw. But we also prepare tomatoes in savory dishes, which is why we usually classify tomatoes as vegetables.
Tomatoes are part of your 5 a day routine, no matter what definition you choose!
Eggplants weren’t always purple
Aubergine is a French word, and they are known as eggplants because of their color, but eggplants came in several shades, including white, yellow, blue, and purple, and some even had spines. In fact, the English name “Eggplant” comes from the fact that the plants were often white and round and originally looked like white eggs. Eggplants are often used as a vegetable for their savory flavor, but like their cousin the tomato, they’re really fruits too!
Peppers were always colorful
Bell peppers in particular are commonly yellow, white, green, red or even purple, depending on ripeness and variety, and are the mildest bell peppers.
But there are hundreds of varieties of peppers to use their technical name, some of which look and taste very different, with the dragon’s breath pepper being developed to be used as an anesthetic but if eaten it could potentially cause that the consumer goes into anaphylactic shock!