Some of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables we eat today are man-made hybrids. They were created through selective breeding, a process whereby only plants with favorable traits are replanted. In rare instances, insects were responsible for creating the hybrid plants through cross-pollination.
Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Kale, And More
Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, collard greens, kohlrabi, and several closely related vegetables originated from the same plant species, Brassica oleracea. Its wild form is known as wild mustard and still exists today.About 2,500 years ago, wild mustard only grew in some parts of Europe and the Mediterranean. Its taste varied greatly, depending on where it grew. Ancient Romans and Greeks soon realized that they could plant it for food. They engaged in selective breeding by planting seeds from wild mustard with larger leaves. The result was the vegetables that we call kale and collard greens.Selective breeding continued in the 1600s when people bred wild mustard with bigger leaf buds. The result was a new vegetable covered with lots of leaves. This was the first cabbage. Wild mustard selected for its bigger stems became kohlrabi, the ones with small heads became brussels sprouts, and the ones with big flowers became broccoli and cauliflower. The hybridization of wild mustard and its derivatives continued up to the 20th century. In 1928, Russian biologist Georgii Dmintrievich Karpechenko crossed a radish with a cabbage to produce what he called the rabbage. The rabbage should have been impossible because the radish is not related to the cabbage.However, the plant never caught on because it failed at being either a radish or a cabbage. In 1993, a Japanese company crossbred broccoli with kai-lan to create broccolini. Kai-lan is not popular in the US. It is a derivative of wild mustard and is the Chinese version of broccoli.
Many varieties of orange exist today. However, every variety traces its roots to the man-made hybrid created by crossing the pomelo with the mandarin. The pomelo is almost as bitter as the grapefruit, while the mandarin is sweet. The mandarin has an orange color, and some people misidentify it as a variety of the orange. Wrong! The mandarin is an ancestor of the orange.The history of the orange is unclear, but it is believed to have first appeared in southern China. Over the years, humans have selectively bred oranges to create many varieties, making it easy to confuse the orange with other citrus fruits. To be clear, a fruit needs to have evolved from the pomelo and mandarin to be considered an orange.A tangerine is not considered an orange because it evolved from the mandarin but not the pomelo. However, the tangelo, which we will talk about shortly, is in a gray area. It is a cross between a tangerine and a pomelo. And as we mentioned already, the tangerine was created from the mandarin.
The modern peanut is a hybrid of two older types of peanuts, the Arachis ipaensis and the Arachis duranensis. The Arachis duranensis grows in the Andean valleys between Bolivia and Argentina, while the Arachis ipaensis grows inside Bolivia.
Both plants were so far apart that they couldn’t have crossbred naturally. Researchers discovered that the earliest settlers in South America took the Arachis duranensis from the Andean valleys as they migrated into today’s Bolivia 10,000 years ago.
However, the settlers did not quickly realize the potential of their new crop and it was the bees that actually cross-pollinated both peanuts. The result was a new peanut that is the ancestor of today’s peanuts.
The banana is a man-made hybrid of the wild Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana banana species. Musa acuminata has a fleshy inside, but it has a very unpleasant taste. Musa balbisiana has a pleasant-tasting inside but contains too many seeds.Both bananas naturally crossbred in the forests of South Asia. However, the resultant banana, which is the ancestor of the modern banana, was sterile. About 10,000 years ago, early humans discovered the hybrid and learned that they could replant the shoots to create new trees. They engaged in selective breeding and only replanted bananas with favorable traits. This led to the creation of the modern banana.Although we managed to create the perfect banana, we could not figure out a way to grow bananas from seeds. So, bananas will become extinct if we stop planting them. The absence of a seed also means that all bananas have the same genetic properties as they are replanted from the shoot of another tree. As a result, all the world’s banana trees could be wiped out by a single disease.
The almond is a man-made hybrid of the wild almond, which is notoriously bitter and could be deadly when consumed in considerable amounts. The history of the almond is unclear, and scientists cannot determine which variant of the wild almond was selectively bred to create the modern almond. Scientists suspect that the wild ancestor of the almond is the Amygdalus fenzliana (Fritsch) Lipsky because its trees, seeds, and fruits resemble the modern almond. It is also found in Armenia and Azerbaijan, where the modern almond is believed to have been selectively bred by humans. Besides the origin, scientists cannot determine how our ancestors managed to create a perfect and sweet almond because the almond is poisonous.