Traditional and historical vegetable and fruit varieties have a high nutrient density. Why they deserve not to be forgotten.
Cikkszám p, 02. június 2017
Variety instead of sameness
Now, at the beginning of summer, superb fruit and vegetables call for a healthy feast. For example tomatoes. Whether in the pasta-sauce, from the grill or in salads; tomatoes have plenty of carotenoids that give the fruits their orange to red color and that rank among the secondary plant substances or phytochemicals. The dominating carotenoid in tomatoes is lycopene which is considered to be a cell-protecting antioxidant. Tomatoes are supposed to be juicy, with the typical aroma. But do tomatoes that we can buy nowadays still taste that good? After due consideration and self-experience we reckon, not really. The vegetables and also fruits that we can generally buy today by far doesn’t taste as aromatic as it did earlier. Maybe you can remember the taste of sun-ripened tomatoes in grandmother’s garden? Those who have already eaten them straight from the bush know that they taste much better and more aromatic and cannot be compared with standard products from the supermarket. Many people do not know anymore how a tomato tastes that has fully ripened in the sun or an apple of an old variety that may also have its ‚beauty flaws‘ - and this brings us to a fundamental issue:
Due to the industrial mass production, meanwhile only a very limited selection of fruits and vegetables are grown. Through breeding that targets specific properties - such as a flawless appearance, longer keepability and shelf life as well as an accelerated growth so that the products reach the market quickly - fruit and vegetable varieties have lost taste and aroma over time. In the end, a few large seed companies and authorities determine which of these foods the majority of consumers can buy today. Varieties that were still popular some decades ago, have now vanished from the market. In the course of standardization and market adjustment, the genetic diversity that partly exists for many centuries, has faded from the view of the consumer.
But it still exists! Passionate gardeners and gourmets that are concerned about the preservation of old, traditional cultivated varieties, still grow them, even exchange seeds in order to preserve the sorts that have become rarities. Beside the better taste and the oftentimes fascinating appearance, historical varieties have another advantage namely for our health: They exhibit a higher nutrient density, are thus richer in vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals than their modern versions. Old carrot varieties with a dark color for example that originated from the Afghanistan region and moved westwards where they gradually became the orange carrots we all know today by mutation and crossing - have a higher amount of provitamin A than modern carrot varieties. Provitamin A (beta-carotene) is beneficial to our eyesight. Old and historic carrot sorts often have a dark purple color, due to anthocyanins, those phytochemicals that can also be found in dark berries such as wild blueberries and are considered to be strong antioxidants. It is assumed that the black carrot (Daucus carota) was already eaten in the Stone Age and therefore is one of the oldest vegetables of mankind.
Just with this example it becomes obvious: Nature offers an unbelievable diversity which is unfortunately hardly displayed in today’s markets. From time to time we can find sorts in some markets that have actually fallen into oblivion but experience a short revival, for instance because star cooks and the slow food movement make them a trend - like the ‚Filder Spitzkraut‘, Swiss chard, parsnips, topinambour and black salsifies. Among the fruit sorts we can sometimes find again gooseberries and also old apple varieties such as ‚Gravensteiner‘. In general, you do have to search for such rarities though. Some organic farms offer extraordinary fruits and vegetables that for sure have a higher price, but provide incredibly new taste experiences and spoil our body with a high nutrient density. In case of organically grown foods, we can also assume that the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides is being refused. Those who want true diversity must look around more precisely and even may not be able to avoid growing it by themselves. Just try it out! It doesn’t necessarily have to be old, historical tomato sorts that truly have an incomparable aroma. Growing organic vegetables, fruits and even herbs of one’s own is fun and you will be surprised what kind of varieties are out there that you weren’t aware of before. From a rich selection of extraordinary seeds you can determine for yourself what ripens well and is finally arranged tastefully on your plate - rather than to put yourself up with the boring standard products in the supermarket that somehow always look and taste the same.