If fruits and vegetables tasted even better, maybe people would include more in their diet. Part of what researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are trying to do is to improve the taste
and nutritional profile of specialty crops like fruits and vegetables, in the hope that Americans will adopt a healthier diet. For generations, humans have been inadvertently breeding the nutrients
out of fruits and vegetables, by selecting varieties that are more palatable (i.e., higher in sugar and starch). Then, somewhere along the way, appearance became important, and farmers began breeding aesthetically pleasing varieties, often at the expense of taste. So, now we're stuck with some pretty bland products. Here are some more tasty links.
- For the past 70 years or so, people have been breeding tomatoes for a uniform red color, but in the process, a gene that increases sugar content in tomatoes was inactivated. The gene, SlGLK2, increases the formation of chloroplasts, which are responsible for producing sugars through photosynthesis. Researchers have shown that by re-inserting an intact copy of the gene into tomatoes, they could increase the amount of glucose and fructose by up to 40%, while still retaining the uniform color ripening trait. Too bad they weren't actually able to taste them (federal regulations prohibit sampling experimental crops). [url]
- Researchers have found that today's Fuji apples are mealier, less flavorful, and more susceptible to disease than they were in the 1970s. The culprit: climate change. Studies in controlled temperature environments have shown that higher temperatures have been linked to a decrease in taste and texture in apples. Who knows what other crops might also have been changed due to global warming? [url]
- University of Florida researchers have discovered that they can improve the taste of fruits by exposing them to far-red light. They were able to use specific wavelengths of light to manipulate the production of volatile compounds that control aroma and taste in fruits like tomatoes, strawberries, and blueberries. Imagine your produce tasting even better after being stored in your far-red-light-equipped refrigerator! [url]
If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post