Scientists can’t seem to resist the urge to build a better tomato. British researchers have been studying genetically modified purple tomatoes containing anthocyanin; a pigment that provides high antioxidant capacity. Cancer-prone mice who’ve eaten GM purple tomatoes have had their lifespan extended from an average of 21 to 48 days. The GM tomatoes are also said to be slower to ripen, meaning they could have a longer shelf life while still tasting good.
But do we need tomatoes to do all that?
Heirloom or heritage vegetables and fruits are varieties that may have once been widely grown but — due to their being too fragile to ship or not having “desirable” shapes or hues — are not cultivated in modern large-scale farming. Heirloom plants have been propagated through pollination rather than via grafts and cuttings, sometimes for hundreds and thousands of years, and the seeds passed down by families and among communities.
These are ten heirloom fruits and vegetables to seek out or, if you garden, to consider growing yourself.
1. Potato Onions
Photo via Chiot’s Run/Flickr
Commonly grown in the U.S. up till the start of the 20th century, a description of the potato onion from the 1885 “Henry W. Wood’s Descriptive Fall Catalog” says it is “early, very productive mild flavor, and the most profitable variety grown for market.” In the 1980s, the potato onion was only being grown by a “few isolated gardeners here and possibly in Europe.” Then photographer Kenneth Klotz discovered potato onions in country stores and started Kalmia Farm in Charlottesville, Virginia, for small-scale production of its bulbs.
2. Golden Ball and Chantenay Carrots
Photo via brotherlywalks/Flickr
The color orange and a long, skinny shape have become synonymous with carrots. But these vegetables (which are believed to have originated in Afghanistan) can be white, yellow and violet; the orange ones evolved in the 1600s in the Netherlands. The Golden Ball carrot can be round as radishes while the Chantenay carrot has a bright scarlet hue.
3. Lemon Cucumber
Photo via Chris Freeland/Flickr
Round, crisp and not bitter — and yellow – the lemon cucumber is a practically modern conception of cucumbers. Like the long green ones, lemon cucumbers are crisp and cooling to the taste, perfect in your summer salad.
Top photo via brotherlywalks/Flickr
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