” It was better before ! The vegetables tasted better. We often think so, convinced by our memories or by an inclination to magnify the past. But on closer inspection, was the food once better?
Take what nature gives us …
… Yes, but without domestication , food point. The wild plants ancestors of our carrots, lettuces, radishes, eggplants and other melons, are not at all to our taste, even not edible!
“We would not consume Lactuca Serriola, considered to be the ancestor of current lettuce. It is inedible, its leaves are very hard, hairy, thorny and too bitter. “
Without human intervention, no food
All vegetables are derived from natural mutations that have appeared in wild forms, for example broccoli, cauliflower and romanesco cabbage are spontaneous mutations of wild cabbage. For his subsistence man has used variations among plants, over the centuries and in all regions of the world. Domesticated plants do not survive without the care of farmers, and humans would not survive without them. Left to their own devices, they return to an unusable wild state for our food.
From the continuous modeling of plants by man was born the extraordinary diversity of cultivated species and the wealth of current stalls, whose offer has exploded for 20 or 30 years.
Bitterness goes away, diversity explodes
Bitterness, unpleasant to our current taste, was present in many vegetables in the past. Few of us would consume the endives of the 1960s today, whose breeders have managed to greatly reduce the bitterness. That of lettuce has long since disappeared, but breeders are still working on this aspect of chicory, escarole and curly.
“Improving plants for taste is a complex task that requires enormous effort because it is not easy to measure: very many biochemical compounds are involved,” explains Hervé Michel. Blind tastings are also used, such as in tomatoes or potatoes.
Tomato: focus on taste tests …
In the 1960s, tomato production developed a lot with greenhouse crops thanks to the work of INRA and private breeders who proposed a range of varieties adapted early and resistant to diseases. In the 1980s, consumers were happy to find tomatoes almost all year round thanks to selection for shelf life. If it is true that this selection had left taste aside, for the past fifteen years breeders have been offering new varieties of good taste quality and offering tremendous diversity thanks to specific programs (cherry, cocktail, etc.). Mansour Majde, tomato breeder at Gautier Semences, works on taste: “Contrary to popular belief, in tasting tests the old varieties are not necessarily so tasty. The recent varieties sometimes correspond better to our current taste, in terms of flavors, aromas and textures of the fruits. These criteria are tested by professional juries and consumer tests. ”
A marketing manager at Clause Home Garden, explains: “There are very good varieties of beans among the old as well as among the recent. But the old varieties of green beans had to be harvested at a juvenile stage, otherwise their pods were filled with threads. The selection first made it possible to produce straight pods, with small grains, which remained tender longer on the plant, avoiding having to pick them every two or three days. In the 70s and 80s, the new varieties without wires and without parchment, making the pod less hard, considerably improved the pleasure of eating green beans!
The sugar level is one of the criteria used in the selection of tomatoes, peppers and of course melons. The latter has undergone a remarkable qualitative development in the last 30 years: it was never safe to come across a good melon in the 80s and 90s. “There was a turning point in the 2000s” explains Ganaëlle Bernard, melon selector at Sakata Vegetables. “We went from smooth varieties to“ written ”types, with these small cross-linked meshes on the bark, which allow better resistance to shocks during handling ”. Today melons have a stable sugar level over time after harvest, just as their flesh no longer becomes vitreous or watery. These qualities are homogeneous from one fruit to another, whose bark does not yellow too quickly when ripened, which lengthens the shelf life. “The taste changes: young people prefer firm, sweet flesh, not too aromatic or musky.”
Primordial for our health, the health aspect
In all species , genetic resistance to diseases is sought. It is a selection criterion essential for the environment, the health of consumers and beneficial for producers because it contributes to the reduction of phytosanitary products. Thus, “80% of our lettuce selection work concerns genetic resistance to diseases and viruses . For 20 or 30 years we have progressed enormously in this field, and thanks to the intrinsic resistance of the varieties we eat salads much less treated than in the 80s “testifies Hervé Michel.