Eggplant, also called aubergine, come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Mostly, we know them as purple, but they’re also blue, white, and yellow. But, the Chinese cultivated some of the earliest eggplants. “Primitive versions used to have spines on the place where the plant’s stem connects to the flowers. But selective breeding has gotten rid of the spines and given us the larger, familiar, oblong purple vegetable you find in most grocery stores” (Business Insider). Explorers in the New World tried to introduce the eggplant in the 1500s, but it didn’t catch on until much later. It wasn’t until the 1960’s when the smaller varieties in Japan came to America, and they’ve only recently adopted the Indian, Japanese, and Chinese eggplant varieties. These might be some of the youngest vegetables in the states.
Before human interference, avocados were much smaller. They had larger pits and rotted faster than they do today, which seems impossible considering they seem to go from rock hard to rotting within a day or two. Americans ate two billion pounds of avocados last year, so it’s a good thing humans came in and changed the trajectory of the avocado. Avocados were originally from Mexico, and humans started eating them 10,000 years ago, and it’s said they’re as old as the wheel. Spanish explorers discovered the fruit (yes, an avocado is a fruit) in the 16th century, and by 1521, it spread into Central and South America (Ranker).
Grapes dating back centuries tasted much like the wine grapes we have today. “Researchers conducted DNA tests on 28 samples of grape seeds dug out of waterlogged wells, dumps, and ditches at archaeological sites across France. The results, published today in the journal Nature Plants, show strong connections between modern wine grapes and those used as far back as the Roman period.” The DNA between modern grapes and ancient grapes is technically very similar. We’ll never truly know if the wine we sip on today is the same wine that sloshed around our ancestor’s wooden chalices. But it’s safe to assume it’s a bit similar.
You’ll find cucumbers, the long, green fruit, in alcoholic beverages on the beach or in a mound of salad. Before human interference, they were smaller and spikey. They originated in India and humans cultivated them for at least 3,000 years. In the 9th century, records showed it arrived in France and England in the 14th century. According to the Canadian Encylopedia, the “cucumber is low in vitamins, has a mineral composition comparable to tomato, is rich in water, and has practically no calories.” Even though it’s lacking nutrition, it does taste great in a variety of dishes. Three hundred years ago, English people referred to cucumbers as “cowcumbers.” And, Emporer Tiberius of Rome ate cucumbers every day, so it comes as no surprise that they’re still a popular fruit today.
Kale, sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower all come from the same plant, Brassica oleracea. Scientists specifically cultivated it to create those green leafy vegetables we munch on our dinner plates today. Humans used those leaves and cultivated vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower. Humans genetically modified cabbage “by selecting a short petiole and evolving it over time,” and it was bred to have a more appealing taste and flavor to humans. It was first domesticated in Western Europe, and today’s cabbage is extra leafy compared to its less-leafy ancestors. This dates back about 10,000 years, and modern technology allows us to cultivate broccoli with higher levels of phytonutrients.
Before human interference, plums were smaller. They were closer in size to grapes, as opposed to what they’re closer to today, which is apples. It’s said that plum fruits may have been one of the first fruits domesticated by humans. According to Prime Scholars, “plum remains have been found in Neolithic age archaeological sites along with olives, grapes, and figs.” Humans cultivate plums in all temperate climate countries of the world. These Neolithic plums weren’t the plums we see today. There is one plum that hasn’t made it to modern days, and that’s Murray’s plum. It is scientifically known as Prunus murrayana and was found in Texas at the Edwards Plateau in 1928. No one has seen it since then, but if you’re feeling adventurous, go ahead and look for a thorny shrub 17 feet tall, with white flowers and red plums with white dots. A little bit of detective work never hurt!
The history of almonds is a prime example of how human interference can change the course of evolution for a particular species. It’s fascinating to think that what we now know as a healthy, delicious snack once had the potential to be deadly. For hundreds of years, almonds were bitter and full of cyanide, a deadly poison that could kill you. The reason for this bitter taste was a compound called amygdalin. However, humans eventually discovered that almonds could be made edible by roasting them. Roasting removes the cyanide-producing compound and enhances the nutty flavor. This led to the domestication of the almond tree, as people started to cultivate it for consumption. Over time, almond trees underwent genetic mutations that eliminated the cyanide gene, making them safe for human consumption even in their raw form. Humans also began to selectively breed almond trees for sweeter and larger nuts, leading to the development of different varieties of almonds.