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Your favourite food’s weird-looking ancestors

 

Wikimedia/public domain

Say one day you get stuck in some sort of time vortex (it could happen!) and get thrown back hundreds of years into the past. Naturally you’re going to want to blend in and not cause any alarm until you can get back to your own time. Being offered a tasty carrot or watermelon by the locals and then yelling, “yuck, what’s that?” when you see it, is going to cause some suspicion. Many foods actually looked completely different in the past; years and years of farming have made even the most ordinary foods unrecognizable to the average time traveler. So here’s a look at how a few foods have changed over the years— it’s something to keep in mind the next time you’re hanging out near that time vortex.

Bananas

wild banana with seeds

Photo by Warut Roonguthai/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0 

When you eat a banana you may that notice at the centre of the fruit there are usually a few black dots. Those tiny specks are all that remain of the big seeds that bananas used to have. You can still find wild bananas with seeds, but for the last 7,000 years farmers have been working to grow bananas with smaller and smaller seeds and more fruit. They also bred the bananas to have a thicker peel to make it easier to ship them far away. The yellow bananas we see in North America are all descended from one banana plant, but around the world you can find red, pink and purple bananas.

Watermelons

illustration of watermelons with lots of seeds

Wikimedia/public domain

There’s nothing tastier in the summer than a slice of juicy red watermelon, but 500 years ago watermelons were a lot less juicy and a lot less red, and with lots of seeds! Watermelons originally came from Africa, but were grown all over the world. Over time, gardeners found that people enjoyed watermelons that didn’t have all those seeds and were a brighter colour. So they started selecting only certain watermelons to plant— it took a few hundred years, but now we have seedless watermelons!

Carrots

colourful carrots

Photo by Kate Fisher licensed CC BY 2.0 

The orange carrots you love to chomp on are actually mutants! Yes, back in the 10th century carrots were very spindly and usually white or purple, but then a random genetic mutation occurred which resulted in yellow carrots. Farmers liked the look of this new carrot on the block and kept growing it, eventually becoming orange carrots. They also grew the carrots to be bigger and sweeter. Purple and yellow carrots are available, and tasty, but wild carrots— which can grow as weeds in fields— are pretty much the same carrots that were around 1,000 years ago.

Peaches

peaches

Photo by Dejan Spasovski licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

The best peaches are big and juicy and sweet— now try to imagine that peach as cherry-sized and having the taste of a lentil. Um, yum? For some reason farmers in ancient China decided to keep growing those lentil-y wild peaches, and over the next 6,000 years people from around the world grew and selected peaches for their sweetness and size, eventually developing the peach we know today. A lot of effort but with a delicious payoff!