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What is the taste of vegetables?

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” It was better before ! The vegetables had more taste. We often think so, convinced by our memories or by an inclination to magnify the past. But looking closer, was the food once so much better? 

Take what nature gives us …

… yes, but without domestication , no food. The wild ancestors of our carrots, lettuce, radishes, eggplants and other melons, are not at all to our taste, or not edible!

Hervé Michel, breeder of lettuce at Vilmorin, explains: “We would not consume Lactuca Serriola, considered as the ancestor of the current lettuce. It is inedible, its leaves are very hard, hairy, thorny and too bitter. ”  

We would not eat wild eggplant either: no bigger than a ping-pong ball (with a diameter less than 3 cm), round, green, it contains mostly seeds, little flesh, and it is bitter .

Wild melons have spherical fruits 1 cm in diameter, with little flesh, translucent white, and many seeds inside. Their flesh is often bitter (presence of cucurbitacin).

Without human intervention, no food

All vegetables come from natural mutations that have appeared in wild forms, for example broccoli, cauliflower and romanesco cabbage are spontaneous mutations of wild cabbage. For his livelihood 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 the farmers and the man would not survive without them. Delivered on their own, they return to a wild state that can not be exploited for our food.

From the continuous modeling of plants by man is born the extraordinary diversity of cultivated species and the wealth of current stalls, whose supply has exploded for 20 or 30 years.

Bitterness goes away, diversity explodes

A bitterness, unpleasant to our present taste, was present in many vegetables in the past. Few of us today would consume the endives of the 1960s, whose breeders were able to mitigate very strongly the bitterness. That of lettuce has long since disappeared, but breeders still work this aspect of chicory, escarole and curly.

“The improvement of plants for the taste is a complex task that requires a huge effort because it is not easy to measure: very many biochemical compounds are at stake,” explains Michel Hervé. Blind tastings, such as tomatoes or potatoes are also used.

Tomato: zoom on the taste tests …

Tony Bonin, marketing manager at Clause Home Garden, says, “There are some very good varieties of beans, old and new. But 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, and which remain soft longer on the plant, avoiding having to pick them every two or three days. In the 70s and 80s, the new varieties without strings and without parchment, making the pod less hard, have considerably improved the pleasure of eating green beans! 

The sugar level is one of the criteria used in the selection of tomato, pepper and of course melon. The latter has undergone a remarkable qualitative evolution in the last 30 years: we were never sure to find a good melon in the 80s-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 bark meshes, which allow for better resistance to shocks during handling. Today, melons have stable sugar levels in the post-harvest time, as their flesh does not become virescent or watery. These qualities are homogeneous from one fruit to another, the bark does not yellow too quickly to ripen, which lengthens the shelf life. “The taste is changing: young people prefer a firm, sweet, not too aromatic or musky flesh.”

Primordial for our health, the health aspect

In all species , genetic resistance to disease is sought. It is an essential selection criterion 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 focuses on genetic resistance to diseases and viruses . For 20 or 30 years we have progressed enormously in this area, and thanks to the intrinsic resistances of the varieties we eat salads much less treated than in the 80s “testifies Hervé Michel.

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