Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Unusual Vegetables

It has come to my attention (via Luigi Guarino) that Dr Michael Mazourek (Professor of Plant Breeder at Cornell University in the USA) is engineering all manner of new fruits and vegetables, such as black-and-white cucumbers, pear-flavoured melons, and miniature vegetables with vivid polka dot patterns.

However, these innovatives are not the result of a genetic engineering program, but the clever use of traditional and cutting-edge plant breeding techniques.

The Farmer's Daughter honeydew melon was bred for mildew resistance and for easy harvesting, as it slips off the vine when ripe, as well as its pear-like flavour. It is the result of six years of selective crossing.

The black-spined white-skinned 'Salt and Pepper' cucumber, the result of a cross between white spine and long green varieties, proved to have an unexpectedly sweet flavour.

Mazourek’s lab has also released a mild habanero pepper - the Habanada - for those who like the flavour without the hotness, and a miniature butternut squash called the Honeynut.

His current experiments with purple snap peas and miniaturized vegetables with vivid colours, stripes and polka dots are being conducted with the aim of producing vegetables that appeal to children, and thereby improve their diet.

There is also a market for unusual vegetables among celebrity chefs in top-end restaurants, keen to introduce their customers to new food experiences.

Mazourek's vegetables are bred for high nutritional content, disease and pest resistance, and suitability for growing under organic and regional growing conditions. He has a keen eye for novelty, which adds extra value to the fruits and vegetables produced at Cornell. It's a good illustration of the power of plant breeding.

Read more:

Luigi Guarino, Agricultural Biodiversity roundup:

Stacey Shackford, Cornell University news:

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