The true origin of our everyday foods are
more unusual than you might think? Sour, bitter, spiky and tasteless domestication
has created the delicious food we eat today. Jumping in at number 10 we have the watermelon. 10. Desert Watermelon ( Citrullus colocynthis)
Watermelon The watermelon started out as a hard, bitter
tasting round fruit native to west africa. The most agreed upon source is the Citrullus
colocynthis an african wild melon that grows in the desert. This melon has weird swirl shapes on the inside
you’ll notice matches up with old paintings of watermelon throughout the years. Cultivated for at least 3500 years, extensive
nuclear and plastid genomic data of a single leaf pulled from a 3500 year old Egypian sarcophagus
confirmed in fact the Egyptians were domesticating the watermelon. Within the tomb was a sarcophagus covered
in watermelon leaves. Joseph Hooker a close friend of Charles Darwin
had possession of them to with he locked them in a case at Kew Gardens in London. A kew gardens official agreed to give up 1
of the leaves from the collection to be tested. Not only where watermelon leaves found among
the pharaohs of the past but also carved onto the walls of the Egyptian tombs. It is believed watermelons would be buried
with the pharaohs to help quench their thirst on their long journey through the afterlife. The watermelons native to west africa are
amazingly resistant to the heat and if they are stored in a shaded place away from the
sun can last a long time. There are no doubts this is one of the reasons
the Egyptians treasured and cultivated them. As watermelons were further developed to be
more and more sweet, their initial yellow flesh color which is confirmed by old paintings
started to change. The gene that determines sugar content is
paired with the one for color and as they were cultivated to be more sweet the watermelon
became more pinkish red. If you were wondering this here is an orangelo
orange fleshed watermelon that is almost ready. 9. Wild Tomato (Solanum pimpinellifolium) – Tomato
First cultivated by the Incas and Aztecs going back 1300 years ago, the tomato comes from
wild tomatoes that are cherry sized and yellow getting the name golden apples. Considered poisonous during the time due to
the belief they were deadly like the deadly nightshade berry which looks very similar
to this one the black nightshade berry the tomato comes from a single wild source with
multiple other wild neighbours. Growing in the Andean region of Chile, Ecuador,
Colombia, Bolivia and Peru there are 18 wild tomatoes with it believed the Solanum pimpinellifolium
or wild currant tomato was the origin of this food. Measuring the size of a pea this tomato was
crossed with other wild tomatoes in the region. Lycopersicon hirsutum a wild tomato found
in coastal valleys of peru added disease resistance where Lycopersicon peruvianum a wild green
tomato offered a wide array of characteristics. Lycopersicon chilense another wild tomato
along with Lycopersicon cheesmanii a tomato only found on the Galapagos islands added
unique abilities like tolerance of salty conditions. The people of this region developed the tomato
quite substantially before it made its way to Europe. After arriving in Europe through the 18th
and 19th centuries an explosion of varieties and hybrids like this indigo rose tomato were
created further developing the tomato to what it is today. 8. Wild Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)
– Blueberry Originating from New Jersey which is the national
fruit of the state in the United States the blueberry comes from a cranberry farmer’s
farm. Frederick Coville a botanist for the USDA
was the one to push through the years of trial and error to finally understand how the blueberry
thrives. Many before him had given up with failure
to domesticate this plant but Coville figured out that the top quality manure and lime soil
that was used for premium crops was the problem and after noticing that wild blueberries grew
well in peat bog acidic or poor soil he recreated the same environment in his lab. He also discovered that blueberries need other
blueberries to cross-pollinate each other to provide excellent production of berries. For this reason, if you buy a blueberry in
the store they usually have 3 different types in
one pot. After his discoveries, he documented everything
in a slim book called Experiments in Blueberry Culture released in 1910. This book was read by Elizabeth White the
daughter of a cranberry farmer in New Jersey. White offered to pay for Coville to come out
to their farm and grow experimental blueberries. White called upon the locals to bring them
any local wild blueberries they could find in exchange for the bush being named after
them. New blueberries like Harding, Hanes and the
most successful the Rubel were chosen for further cultivation. The Rubel came from Rube Leek a man with a
first name that sounded rude and leek being a bad word to name a blueberry they decided
to add the l to rube and call it the gem of blueberries. White continued to collect more wild blueberry
bushes and even offering $50, or about $1300 today for a single bush that produced berries
the size of a cent. Coville working along White ended up developing
over 100,000 blueberry bushes and as they became more popular new warm tolerant varieties
were created in places like Florida. Candy in those days were wrapped in cellophane
as seen as a sparkling treat so White decided to do the same thing with the containers of
blueberries in markets. This helped drive their popularity up as a
specialty market item. The knowledge and efforts of Coville and White
along with their hard work has created a new industry that is booming 100 years later. Wild blueberries can taste very mild or sweet,
their color can vary from blue to black and possess 2 times the antioxidants nutrients
of domesticated varieties. Smaller than domesticated blueberries, wild
blueberries are known as lowbush blueberries which is much more difficult to pick. They must be picked by hand down low so when
they were domesticated they were changed to grow in a large tall bush which can easily
be picked by hand and eventually by machines. 7. Wild Cucumber (Cucumis sativus var. Hardwickii) – Cucumber
Originating from India over 4000 years ago the cucumber was well documented in the past. Listed as a food consumed by people in the
legend of Gilgamesh, a historical king of the Sumerian city-state of Uruk which today
is in Iraq and it was mentioned in the Bible as a food consumed by Israelites in Egypt. The cucumber went through 2 stages of domestication. It first started out as a wild cucumber or
cucumis sativus var. Hardwickii which is a small round cucumber
that is highly seedy, has black spines on the outside and tastes bitter. Selective cultivation moved it along to the
semi wild cucumis sativus var. Xishuangbanna or orange fleshed cucumber. This stage in the cucumber’s life offered
twice as much fruit, the removal of spines, better seeds to flesh ratio but still a bitter
taste. From here we have the g14 full size cucumber
more designed for pickling and the 9930 or chinese suyo long cucumber which doesn’t
look all the different from an english cucumber. Through it’s life of domestication was brought
over to Greece, Rome and Europe as well as the other direction to China. From this basis of cucumbers numerous other
varieties have been created like this amazing specimen I have hanging behind me here or
this red one from Nepal. 6. Wild Mango (Spondia pinnata) – Mango
The earliest mention of the mango comes from Hindu scripture 6000 years ago. While we aren’t certain the originating
source of the mango was probably the Spondia pinnata or the wild mango or jungle hog plum. These wild mangoes grow among the foothills
of the Himalayas of India and Burma, there are still around 60 of these trees that still
grow there today. These tiny mangoes are fibrous and taste like
turpentine which really show how far this fruit has come. 4000 years ago the mango was first cultivated
increasing its size, flavour and texture. Its domestication started in India and moved
throughout southeast asia. Despite us knowing about it for 6000 years
there are mango fossils found in southern Asia that are 25-30 million years ago. Alexander the great, on his expedition to
India was impressed with the mango gardens in Sindh in 327 bce. It is said that Buddha meditated under a mango
tree which helped the spread of this fruit. Persian traders brought the mango to the Middle
East and East Africa where Portugese traders spread them throughout West Africa, Philippines
and South America. The word mango comes from the portugese word
manga but it is still unknown where the O came from. Today there are over a 1000 different varieties
of mangoes which India being the top producer of the fruit. They come in all different sizes, some never
change color when they are ripe, some have white flesh on the inside and can taste drastically
different. My personal favorite is this massive mango
from west bali, feel free to identify it in the comments if you know. If you are ever at Bali Beach I bought it
from exactly right here in the month of December. 5. Wild Eggplant (Solanum incanum) – Eggplant
A member of the pepper and tomato family the eggplant has multiple different varieties
like this Ozark egg white one here which makes it difficult to know which is the true origin
and parent plant. Southeast Asia has been identified as the
general region of origin with sights on Burma, Thailand, China or India being the place where
it all started. Ayuvedic texts a couple thousand years old
suggest it was used primarily medicinal back in those days but it’s important to remember
they hadn’t bred out the bitter taste yet. Wild eggplants also possess nasty thorns much
like this white one here. I poked my finger on this a few days ago and
it’s surprisingly painful. The progenitor of the eggplant was thought
to be S. incarnum a plant native to the Middle East and North Africa. This garden weed was selectively developed
in southeast Asia but it isn’t the only option out there. A small round fruit which is what eggplants
used to be before domestication is found on S. linnaeanum a plant native to the Middle
East and Asia. Some scholars believe an unknown plant of
the savannas of southeast asia was the originating plant and not two previously mentioned plant
species. Ancient Chinese documentation explains in
detail what they did to transform the small round wild eggplants into long necked purple
fruits along with removing the bitter taste and increasing their size. Like many foods originating in China they
were brought along the silk road through the Middle East and eventually to Europe. 4. Wild Banana ( Musa acuminata) – Banana
Cultivated for 6500 years the banana’s origin comes from musa acuminata a small banana filled
with large seeds. Bred with a larger more robust wild banana
the Musa balbisiana to create the plantain which has been the base of modern varieties
of bananas. Banana pollen and stem fossils date back 6500
years ago to New Guinea. Through a combination of linguistic, archaeological
and genealogical studies it was found that the banana was introduced to Africa 2500 years
ago. Black Sigatoka a fungal disease puts our common
banana the cavendish at risk which is what happened to the gros michel banana. The gros michel variety is a much tastier
banana discovered in the 1800s and was designated the primary banana of the world by the 1900s
but by 1950 it was replaced by the cavendish due to damage by black sigatoka. If the cavendish banana goes extinct which
looks quite possible, the Yangambi Km5 variety, one coming from the Democratic Republic of
Congo, may take its place in the supermarket. This banana is very much disease resistant
but the only reason it isn’t common today is its thin peel which isn’t as good for
shipping them around the world. 3. Wild Apple (Malus sieversii) – The Apple
Apples are among the most popular fruit on the planet and one of the most widely distributed. Also being one of the top 20 most productive
crops over 80 million tons are produced worldwide. A young tree will take 5 – 7 years to bear
fruit but can live for easily 100 years with rare specimens lasting over 300 years. Dating back a minimum of 4,000 but likely
10,000 years ago in the Tien Shan mountains of Central Asia is where the origin of the
Apple began. The first domesticated apples came from the
Malus sieversii crabapple in Kazakhstan (Very Nice!) These crabapples were altered to be more disease
resistant, larger, sweeter, have firmer flesh, bruise resistant and have improved shelf life. Caravan traders 4,000 years ago brought the
apple across Asia into Europe where it was crossed with M. sylvestris, another cross
of M. orientalis in the Caucasus and Malus baccata in Siberia to create new apple varieties. The earliest record of Malus domestica in
Europe, the domesticated apple, comes from northeastern Italy. Another specimen was found in Ireland dating
back 3,000 years. Learning the art of sweet apple production
from the Greeks the Romans started to grow apples throughout their empire. Dialing in the details of the apple, the past
couple hundred years of domestication changed many of their qualities like taste, size,
tree production and growth speed. Worldwide today there are around 7500 different
varieties of apples which is all thanks to a single apple in Kazakhstan. 2. Wild Celery (Apium graveolens L.) – Celery
First thought to have been cultivated in the mediterranean region, celery originates from
wild celery or Apium graveolens L. Natural wet and salty sometimes marshy conditions
provided the perfect climate for the wild ancestor of the celery to grow. Today finding wild celery isn’t an easy
task, found north of the alps in the foothill zone where soil has salt content. Nutrient-rich, muddy, wet soil is where you’ll
find it, not in Austria but Germany has rare sightings of it. North American production of celery is dominated
by the Pascal cultivar. Wild celery has wedge-shaped leaves, furrowed
stalk which aren’t usually consumed unless cooked for some time in soup. The leaves are used in salads or dried and
sold as a spice. Offering an earthy taste with a distinctive
smell this plant was cultivated to lose their acidic qualities and become more mild and
sweet. Initially, celery was cultivated over the
winter months and used to cleanse the body in spring. With the extension of the growing season,
they are now grown September until April. Another variety leaf celery or Chinese celery
(-==) is believed to be the oldest cultivated celery. Grown in East Asia in marshlands leaf celery
has thin stalks and a stronger taste and smell to them. This strong aroma and taste have been used
for hundreds of years to flavour soups and broths. A more popular European variety in the celery
family is celeriac. Celeriac or celery root is a different plant
than the grocery store celery you’re used to. Along with these varieties, other amazing
color types exist like Chinese pink celery, white celery and giant red celery which I
tried but sadly failed to grow this year. 1. Sea Beet (Beta vulgaris subsp. Maritima) – Beets
Dating back over 4000 years the origin of the beet comes from the beta vulgaris subsp. Maritima or sea beet. Its name beta vulgaris comes from the Greek
letter beta because of its resemblance to a Greek B. Grown by the Romans and Greeks,
both red and white beets were cultivated in Italy by hand selecting wild sea beets that
grow on the coast of the mediterranian. Back in the early days of cultivation the
red beets were much more highly desired than the white but the white were much more common. In the 18th century massive beets called mangel-wurzel
or mammoth red mangel beets were developed from fodder beets in Holland and Germany. I actually tried to grow some mammoth red
mangel beets this year which should be right here but whatever reason they didn’t grow. In the 1770s these massive beets were used
as livestock feed. American colonists brought beets to north
america at which they became well established in the 1800s. Today 35% of the world’s sugar comes from
beets with the rest from sugar cane. If you enjoyed this episode you can check
out part one of this series or my top 10 fruits you’ve never heard of series and until the
next one have a good one.