Ever heard that ‘genetically-modified organisms’ or GMOs are bad for you? We all have concerns on what potentially harmful, seemingly unpronounceable chemicals could be in whatever we eat. However, you may not realize that our ancestors have always tampered with food to make better, tastier, and actually edible products. Scroll down to find our list of the top 10 genetically modified foods you’ve probably eaten.
There’s nothing like sweet tropical fruit like papaya to remind you of a nice summer day. Papaya also so happens to be the first genetically modified fruit grown commercially back in the 1990s, but for a very good reason. In order to improve the lifespan of papaya trees, scientists bred the “SunUp” and the “Rainbow” papaya that could resist the ‘papaya ringspot virus’—a virus that caused deformities such as discoloration, bumps, and “ringspots” (hence the name) in its fruits and damage to the tree itself. Because of these scientists great efforts genetically modifying the papaya, we are able to enjoy the taste of the tropics!
Whether we use them for guacamole, a salad, or a general replacement for fat in our diets, avocado fruits are a staple in many households. Avocados didn’t originally have a thick layer of creamy, butter-like flesh like the ones we see today. In fact, they contained mostly the round seed and a much smaller layer of the fruit prior to their domestication. Imagine having to buy more than a handful of these just to have the same amount as the ones we buy in the supermarket!
(Or if you prefer seeing rather than imagining, search ‘wild avocados’ in your preferred search engine and see it for yourself.)
Advertised as a “superfood” rich in antioxidants, fiber, and other nutrients, the pomegranate is an ancient fruit native to parts of Iran and northern India and is cultivated worldwide.
According to an article published in August 2007 from the American Society for Horticultural Science, they once had “thicker rinds and extremely high acidity” with “much smaller arils” (seed pods) and were cultivated to be edible by Persia (now Iran) by 3000 BCE. This “fruit of paradise” would eventually spread across other countries such as China (100 BCE), Indonesia (early 1400s), and what would eventually become the United States of America (1700s).
It’s strange to think that we could make such a valuable fruit even better!
The pineapple is the quintessential tropical fruit the summertime, islands, and of course, mixed drinks :)! (Fun fact: other parts of the world calls the fruit “ananas”, which means ‘excellent fruit’ in the now-extinct Classical Tupi language). Similar to the previous items in this list, the sweet, juicy fruit was said to be modified through thousands of years of domestication and selection by the Tupi-Guarani Indians, making modern pineapples larger and less acidic with lesser seeds than their ancient counterparts.
(Another fun fact: the English word for pineapple was given by its appearance of scales looking like an “exotic pine cone”.)
We certainly wouldn’t exclude a transformation as big as the eggplant, also called the aubergine or brinjal, also known as the “King of Vegetables” in India! Mentioned as early as 300 BCE in Sanskrit documents, it was said to be first used as medicine due to its bitternes. It appeared to be prickly, much smaller and rounder with either a green, white, yellow, or purple exterior. (As you can see, the eggplants of today hardly have any prickles and appear larger and longer.) They have been cultivated and purposefully selected for thousands of years which gives their their current shape, texture and taste.
Strawberry shortcakes, strawberry jam, strawberry candy – strawberries are a deliciously delightful fruit that everyone can enjoy. This ‘false fruit’ (as the part we often eat is the receptacle holding the ovaries, which are the tiny ‘seeds’ on it) is a hybrid of two other species of strawberry: wild strawberry and Chilean strawberry. Wild strawberries, in comparison to the more commonly known strawberries, appear as miniature heart-shaped berries, while Chilean strawberries, look more like round versions of the modern strawberry. Together, they make up its current, well-known shape.
What do you often see inside a watermelon? One would say it would have the sweet, refreshing red/pinkish fruit we know and love. But what if I told you that watermelons once weighed as much as a tomato, tasted bitter, and had more white pulp than red? That was how the fruit originally was in 3000 BC and was found in South Africa, specifically in Namibia and Botswana. You could also see its change in appearance by looking at 17th century paintings that included the watermelon (which are available online to see). They have the smaller size and less pink flesh which we all love.
Carrots are a variety of root vegetable known to help with one’s eyesight, along with having various other health benefits. Carrots differed from their bright orange color during the 10th century. Back then, they were either white or purple with thin divided roots. Over time they mutated colors to develop a yellow color instead of purple. Breeders and farmers then further improved its flavor, sweetness, texture, and color.
Believe it or not, bananas used to looked more like huge okra than actual bananas. The plants themselves were sought after as ornamental plants and the fruits were not considered edible because they contained larger and harder seeds by the hundreds. The modern banana is thought to be a hybrid of the “Musa acuminate”, its ancestor, and “Musa balbisiana”, which developed from plantains, from 7,000 to 10,000 years ago in parts of Southeast Asia and what is now Papua New Guinea.
Maize, or what is known elsewhere as corn, definitely takes the trophy for our list of the top 10 genetically modified foods. Corn started out as part of the start of agriculture around 10,000 years ago. It has plenty of differences from its modern counterpart. These include the size (with the modern counterpart a thousand times larger), taste (where the wild counterpart “tasted like dry, raw potato” and were far from sweet), number in kernels (which the wild crops simply had around 5 to 10), its ease of collecting and planting (where modern corn completely triumphed).
There you have the top 10 genetically modified foods (at least for fruits and vegetables!). We certainly can be careful with what we eat, but sometimes, ‘modified’ food doesn’t always mean it’s bad—especially when you’ve probably eaten them once or twice without realizing.
If you are really worried about which foods you should be eating, then check our our list of 10 Unhealthy Foods You Should Stop Eating Now.