Why Eve had no chance

by | May 14, 2020

Why Eve had no chance with the whole apple thingo.

For at least the last half-century (ever since they created a tomato that could withstand mechanised harvesting) the supply chain for fruit and vegetables has been getting longer and longer. Longer in terms of distance – think asparagus from Chile being sold in Perth, Australia – and longer in terms of time – apples up to a year old, lettuce up to four weeks and tomatoes up to six weeks (picked green and ripened at the last minute in ripening rooms – google it). But what does this mean for the nutritional value of the fruits and vegetables we eat and their flavour? We all know, via the countless public service campaigns that it is important to eat 5 veggies and 2 fruits every day. And most of us, if we are honest, know we don’t do it.

But even if we do, does it matter if the fruit or veg wasn’t picked ripe or isn’t “fresh”? The answer is yes. It turns out that both are important.

First of all, we need to think like a plant to understand this – what is the plant trying to do with fruit? The answer – it is reproducing. Fruit is a result of plant sex (aided in many instances by bees and other pollinators). And fruit is the “seed delivery device”. We humans are one of the many animals enticed to eat fruit in the hope that we will spread the seeds around the forest or field (think cave person times and pooping wherever). The plant achieves this trickery in a number of very clever evolutionary ways.

1) Make sure the fruit doesn’t taste any good until the seeds have matured, and

2) make sure the fruit is noticeable and tastes great once the seeds are mature and at the same time make sure the seeds still taste yuk (that way you swallow them whole and poop them whole or spit them out).

Turns out poor old Eve wasn’t tricked by the serpent into eating the apple. The plant did it!

In the natural world, much of this process is controlled by the plant hormone “ethylene” (gas) which is manufactured by the plant and diffuses through tissues and turns genes on and off to create the ripening process via a number of enzymes. These enzymes then destroy cell walls (makes fruit soft) turn complex carbohydrates (created by photosynthesis) into sugars, making fruit sweet and get rid of chlorophyll (green) and let other colours “shine through” (very often reddish but not always) which tells us “food’s up!” Having this process happen on the tree/vine takes full advantage of the plant’s chemical factory to keep filling the fruit up with the nutritious things that are reasons why we are supposed to eat them to get healthy and stay that way.

Eating fruit tricked into looking ripe (when it isn’t really ripe) is better than not eating fruit at all…maybe. But for sure it doesn’t taste as good and in a number of cases (particular fruits and particular phytochemicals aka nutrients) is not as good for you as the real thing.

Now all this is about fruit you say, but what about veggies? Good question! I am talking about the scientific definition of fruit so that’s apples and pears, but it’s also zucchini, pumpkin, eggplant, tomatoes and even sweet corn. In other words anything with seeds. That’s a fruit (confusing I know).

Beans and peas are also fruits (botanically speaking) and we have outsmarted them a little bit and eat them “immature and not ripe” as well as ripe – and then we eat the seeds and mash them up (mushy peas anybody?) and that doesn’t help the peas any.

My next blog will be about “veggies” like roots (carrots), bulbs (onions), tubers (potato) and leaves (kale). That’s a different story altogether but also equally as fascinating. I might even be able to explain why George Bush never flip-flopped on his opinion on broccoli (technically we eat the stems and immature flowers, well some of us do – not George Bush).