In an era where nearly everything we eat has an extensive ingredient list, it’s appealing to pick up a simple fruit or vegetable. However, the fruits and vegetables we know and love are a lot more complicated than you’d think. They didn’t always look like they do. In fact, it took decades of human intervention to transform them into the delicious, nutrient-rich morsels they are today.
Farmers, food engineers, and food manufacturers have long been using selective breeding, hybridization, and most recently, genetic engineering to transform the fruits and vegetables we eat into better versions of themselves. To understand how these processes shaped your food, you first need to understand just how they work.
- Selective breeding happens when humans take seeds from the most desirable varieties of fruits and vegetables and cultivate them. Repeating this process over and over can result in a new variety with the trait you’re looking for, like juicier watermelon or plumper corn.
- Hybridization happens when humans breed two slightly different plants together to create a hybrid fruit or vegetable. If you’ve ever eaten a Tangelo, starfruit, or Meyer lemon, you’ve eaten a hybrid.
- Genetic engineering is the process of splicing a plant’s DNA in order to directly target and replace specific genes. Many varieties of modern apples, potatoes, and corn were produced through genetic modification.