Change is totally normal but it’s always good to know how and why a transformation occurred. Change can be for the better or sometimes it can be for the worse. Whatever the case may be, we’re all certainly eating new versions of our favorite fruits and vegetables that have changed over time. So let’s bite into the top 10 foods that originally looked totally different.
10. The Carrot
Ah yes, almost everyone can recall being told to eat this crunchy vegetable as a child because they would apparently improve our eyesight. Carrots currently have an orange color, generally; they taste alright when served as a side or with a dip; and they’re pretty consistent in every aspect no matter where you are in the world. But, back in the day, around the tenth century to be more precise, there was an earlier form of carrot. It was originally purple or white and came in the form of a thinned forked root. Alongside that, it’s said to have first appeared in what is now modern day Iran and Turkey, as opposed to now, where you can find them widespread throughout the world. Ultimately, this change was likely for good as we got something that looks less like a tooth, and is probably a little more nutritious once farmers domesticated it. What this means is that there’s a chance the carrot was selectively bred by replanting larger versions of it, although this is not fully understood yet. And in case you thought this change to the humble carrot was a one-shot deal, don’t worry, times are still a changin’. Kids now might also be consuming a different kind of carrot due to the fact that the modern world has genetically modified foods. In fact, one GMO carrot was actually tested and resulted in increased calcium intake for some individuals. Maybe next time they’ll add something that gives us cool night vision abilities.
9. The Beloved Banana
The banana is a very interesting fruit as there have been several variations of it throughout time. It’s said to have been first cultivated around seven to ten thousand years ago! It came from the area currently known as Papua New Guinea and was also grown in Southeast Asia. The original was so drastically different that if you put it and the modern version side-by-side, one might even confuse them for completely unrelated fruits. This is due to the fact that the originals came from two types, the Musa acuminata, and Musa balbisiana. Both of those types supposedly had hard and large seeds. When you compare that to what we now all consume, aka the Cavendish, you’ll find that the modern version not only has much smaller seeds but is also better tasting and has more nutrients. To add an extra advantage, it appears to even be more accessible due to being easier to peel. This switch from the original musa acuminata banana, to the specific cultivar we use today, wasn’t a overnight deal. The bananas that are now consumed are said to not even be the same as those that your grandparents were eating. At that time, the banana type was called Gros Michel, but needed to be swapped out for a banana type that was genetically resistant to Panama disease, a fungus affecting the root of the plant. However, it’s been reported that even the Cavendish cultivar we eat today is not completely resistant to the devastating Panama disease, so who knows what the future holds for bananas!
8. The Peach
The peach used to be very similar to cherries, as far as size is concerned. But in terms of taste, that’s where the similarities seemed to stop, since peaches were originally slightly salty and had an earthy taste to them, more similar in taste to a lentil than what we’d associate with a peach today! The fruit was originally thought to be domesticated by the ancient Chinese around 2000 B.C.E (Before Common Era), but more updated research suggests they go as far back as 6000 BCE! Now, keep in mind that over the long period of domestication, we’ve had the time to kind of perfect what we wanted in this fruit. Peaches are currently 64 times larger than their ancestors, 4% sweeter and apparently 27% juicer. So not only is there more peach to love, it’s more delicious, and as an added bonus, way more nutritious too! The peach didn’t get to this size and juice ratio all on its own. This is another instance of farmers selectively breeding certain types of the peach to the specific needs and wants of the farmer and overall population. One thing is for sure, those farmers knew what they were doing!
Watermelon has a long and somewhat interesting history. Unlike some other fruits out there, the family tree of the watermelon is not as well known, and we’re still not entirely sure what the original fruit looked like. But there is a bit of evidence that gives us all an idea of how it’s changed. You see, there’s a painting that was done by Giovanni Stanchi, somewhere between 1645 and 1672. It shows the melon’s flesh as being rather pink, patterned in a swirl inside of six triangular segments, almost like slices of a pie. There also appeared to be an abundance of seeds in the painted fruit. Currently, you’ve got many options with this fruit, you can buy them seedless or in the form of a square if you’re into that sort of a thing. But other than the aesthetic changes that we’ve purposely done to the fruit in the modern ages, not too much seems to have changed. The most notable difference would be the red interior. So the simple conclusion about this fruit is the idea of the watermelon not being altered as much as the other fruits. It seems like the original, natural watermelon was already so enjoyable, farmers didn’t mess with it too much. Don’t fix what isn’t broken, I guess!
Crabapple, also known as wild apple, comes from the genus, Malus. This is a category of about 30–55 species of small deciduous apple trees or shrubs in the family Rosaceae. The apple used to actually be known as the Asian wild apple or Malus sieversii, and was native to the mountains Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and China. As for how it tasted and looked, these original apples were sour and quite small, and not as crisp as our current apples either. An apple a day keeps the doctor away? These original apples don’t seem appealing enough to want to test that theory, but a changed apple could do the job. The modern version is tastier than its parent, since it’s sweet. It’s also a fair bit larger. But really, otherwise they are fairly similar and extremely closely related. The apple is one of our foods that hasn’t changed all that much, due to the environments that it was raised in. Humans simply selected the most pleasing versions and bred those to develop the taste into the refined, sweet crunch we currently enjoy.
Like many ancestral fruits, older versions of the tomato were tiny. They had a color of yellow or green, not the luscious red we have today. Tomatoes seem to have been used in cooking by the Aztecs, and were later adopted by the Europeans in countries such as Spain and Italy. Currently, the tomato is the poster child for many varieties of food. You can see them in everything from ketchup bottles to commercials about hamburgers. They’ve got a welcoming, plump red color, which nicely compliments the rather large versions of tomatoes we’ve got. One interesting thing about this fruit is that it had a bad nickname. At one point, in the late 1700s in Europe, the tomato was known as the “Poison Apple”, due to the thought of aristocrats dying after eating them. At the time, they were using pewter plates, but the high acidity of the tomato activated the lead in the plates, leaching it out. In short, tomatoes were causing lead poisoning in people. But they didn’t know it at the time. We’ve certainly moved on from thinking that this item is the equivalent of an assassin roaming the dark alleys of the world. On top of that, we’re now enjoying tomatoes more than ever!
Not much is known about corn and its relatives, but it was eventually traced back to be related to a Mexican plant known as teosinte. This ancestral corn had small, skinny ears, and really only gave a few dozen kernels inside of a hard casing. Now, part of the reason corn has become so popular is due to the changes that have occurred over time. Some of these include ensuring that the modern version is larger, tastier, and produces significantly more kernels than its forebearer. We’ve even got different colored corn now, although, it’s safe to assume that one of the most well-known versions is the yellow cob. In this case, humans once again performed selective breeding in Mesoamerica by selecting plants whose seeds were larger and had kernels that could be easily ground up. Alongside that, it’s said that the two variants split apart around 9,000 years ago but still manage to have similar DNA. In fact, corn’s so popular nowadays that you can find evidence of it in your hair. The old adage is true: you are what you eat, after all! Our body breaks down our food to use the proteins and fats in other ways. When you look at the carbon utilized in a strand of hair, scientists can determine a rough percentage of how much of that carbon was derived from corn. This is a widely used food option throughout the world, but due to the everyday use of high fructose corn syrup, Americans in particular are walking corn advertisements.
3. The Avocado
The avocado has gone through some much-needed changes, which now allows us to smoothly spread it onto our toast instead of feeling like you’re choking to death, like with every bite of peanut butter. The original avocado was apparently small and is said to have been able to easily fit into your palm. They were so small the diameter was only around three inches! On top of that, the pit to fruit ratio was basically ridiculous, since the pit took up almost the entire avocado. As if that wasn’t enough to turn most people away from this version, the fruit part wasn’t that good. In fact, it’s said to have had a rougher and grittier taste to it. After some desperate alterations starting way back in 500 BCE, the avocado now has a creamy taste and is obviously significantly larger. In short, it’s a far better bang for your buck. One thing that hasn’t changed is the color, it seems to be just the same as it was in the past. At least now you don’t need to buy ten of these things to get the same amount as you now do with one – they’re expensive enough as it is! As for how we got this improved version, well, it isn’t a real mystery. We did what humans appear to have done so often throughout history, selectively breed until we got what we wanted.
Eggplant is very unique when you think about it, everything from the name to the shape and the color. But the history is also just as captivating. This is one type of food that is actually really different from its traditional format. The wild variation of it was typically round but in general, they came in different shapes. As for the color, it usually came in white. Hmm, white and round… yeah, that’s why it was called an eggplant! Although variations of it also came in blue and yellow. It’s believed to have first been domesticated in China, Thailand, and India. But the original version wasn’t really eaten, as it mostly used for medicinal reasons. After a ton of alteration across the span of the food’s family tree, we’ve now got the modern eggplant. It’s large and has a distinct shape, it’s purple in color, and no longer has spines along the stem. Most of all, it’s now deliciously edible. This means that people can enjoy it for all its glory, instead of just the medicinal benefits. This is likely one of the more obvious foods that were selectively bred, as the current version is different in almost all aspects. It shows some of the positive aspects of selective breeding in foods, even with that being a debated topic.
Strawberries are pretty awesome and they’ve got some history to back that up. For once, something wasn’t bred to be better; the original was supposedly sweeter and is even referred to as the superior version of the fruit. However, the original has one major flaw, which many people dislike: it was a lot smaller. Now, the modern version is red and large and healthy, but unfortunately, that’s the reason why it’s lost some of its flavor over the years. The taste is the same, sitting somewhere between sweet and sour, but the intensity of the flavor is much diminished. Unlike these other foods, the strawberry didn’t change due to a simple case of selective breeding. The story is actually far more complicated! All this really only began after an 18th century spy, of all people, decided to bring some strawberry plants he found in Chile back to France. After decades of insufficient attempts to crossbreed the plants with the local version of the strawberry, the world finally started to come upon a solution. It was through both deliberate and accidental cross-breeding between three different types of strawberry, one from the Old World and two from the New World, that finally resulted in the classic modern strawberry we think of today.