Unexpected: 9 Man-Made Foods
We are surrounded by foods that are made by humankind — and I’m not just talking about processed, packaged, and unnatural food. I’m talking about fruits and vegetables.
Recently, there’s been a lot of hype surrounding GMOs and any food that contains them. But what is a GMO? GMO stands for ‘genetically modified organism’. The ‘genetically modified’ part is what scares people, but this doesn’t immediately mean it’s something dangerous or unhealthy. Genetic engineering can be questionable, but genetic modification can be as simple as selective breeding.
Genetically modifying something can mean cross-breeding two different species of tomatoes to make one that will have ten times the nutritional benefits. It can mean selectively breeding to add vitamins and nutrients, enhance the taste, change the color, add spice and heat, and improve longevity.
In fact, a lot of the fruits and veggies we love are actually a result of selective breeding. The same way species of dogs have been carefully and selectively bred and cross-bred to achieve different breeds, the same has been done for food. It may be surprising to some, but a lot of the foods you eat on a regular basis are actually man-made.
The modern-day yellow stalks of corn we see today are quite different from natural corn, or maize. Natural maize is vibrantly colored in rich burgundy, vibrant plum, burnt orange, bright yellow, and deep indigo. Maize was originally harvested in ancient Mexico, starting as a grassy plant called teosinte. Humans domesticated this grass, which was on its own pretty inedible. By manipulating the genes of this plant, humans began to grow and cultivate the first cobs of maize. Over thousands of years, the breeding process was changed and perfected into the corn we know now.
Broccoli is not a naturally occurring vegetable — it is a descendant of wild cabbage. It belongs to the Brassica oleracea family, which members also include cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and brussel sprouts. Broccoli is a result of human intervention and selective breeding dating back thousands of years in Europe and the Mediterranean.
Modern bananas are a result of humans cross-breeding two naturally occurring species of the banana fruit, the Musa acuminata and the Musa balbisiana. Both were originally considered inedible, as the former was naturally soft and fleshy but tastefully unpleasant, and the latter had a desirable taste but the flesh was filled with too many seeds.
The juicy, red tomatoes we are familiar with weren’t originally grown this way. Tomatoes are ancient fruits and have been traced all the way back to the Aztecs. They began as small, yellowish-green, bitter fruits, and were carefully bred to be the way we now know them. In fact, tomato breeding is still a popular process used by farmers and cultivators today.
Both of these popular citrus fruits are the love children of other natural fruit. Oranges are the result of cross-breeding the mandarin and pomelo fruits. Grapefruits were made by cross-breeding the pomelo and shaddock, garnering its name by the way it grew in clusters like grapes.
Watermelons are one of the world’s most beloved fruits because of its beautiful pink, sweet flesh. But wild watermelon is exactly the opposite — the ancestor to modern watermelon was not only tiny but incredibly sour and pale green in color (similar to what we now know as the rind.) Hundreds of years of selective breeding have given us the summer fruit we now know and love.
Carrots are famous for their bright orange color — which is actually the result of human intervention. Natural carrots used to be thin, white and purple in color, and barely edible. The genetic selection of carrots was a long process, beginning with the plants with the biggest roots bred together to create the largest rooted vegetable possible. Eventually, the color of the carrots mutated from white and purple to yellow and finally orange, giving them the sweet taste they are well known for today.
The almonds we eat are drastically different from wild almonds — in fact, wild almonds are fatally poisonous. Believed to be a descendant of the Amygdalus fenzliana, modern almonds have been selectively bred to decrease their dangerous chemical content and increase their sweetness.
Boysenberries, often confused with blackberries because of their near-identical looks, are actually a hybrid of blackberries, raspberries, and loganberries. They are named after Rudolph Boysen, the man who created them in California in the 1920s.