Banana Genome Science

Imagine if you had all of these bananas to pick from every day. Beatrice Sirinuntananon/Shutterstock

We did not search for banana ancestors while living in India. We just found as many varietals as we could to support the genetic stock. I have remained interested in doing the same ever since. They are more versatile than most people are aware, so the outcome of this scientific search matters:

Red or blue, squat or bulbous, seeded or seedless: Bananas have a lot of diversity and scientists have identified genetic signals of varieties that have not yet been found in the wild. guentermanaus/Shutterstock

The Search Is on for Mysterious Banana Ancestors

A new study shows that domesticated bananas have genetic markers tying them to three types of wild bananas that have not yet been found.

Bananas, it turns out, are not what we thought they were.

Sure, most, when ripe, are yellow and sweet and delicious slathered in peanut butter. Continue reading

Vertical Farming Super Strawberries

Illustration by João Fazenda

In the early years of this platform we were developing new properties in Kerala, India and food was a focal point. More recently when we indulge in the culinary it is Costa Rica taste of place we are talking about. Occasionally vertical farming makes its way into these pages, but it has been a while:

Selling “Omakase” Strawberries, for the Price of a Full Meal

The founder of Oishii, whose haute-cuisine strawberries have sold for as much as ten dollars a pop, offers a tour of one of his V.C.-backed vertical farms, modelled on the foothills of Japan and built in New Jersey.

Consider the strawberry: red, ripe, an ephemeral pleasure as fleeting as a summer fling. Continue reading

Bananas, Maturity & Gravity

I had the intuition: if I do not harvest these bananas on my schedule, they would do it on their own. And so they did. I came home, looked out the kitchen window, and there was the entire story laid out. Maturity. Gravity pulled them down.

In these two images you can see what maturity means to a banana plant. The bananas are not ripe, but they are heavy enough to pull the entire plant down to the ground.

Normally I would have supported the bunch of bananas with a bamboo pole, then carefully chop the bottom of the trunk so the entire structure slowly makes its way down. Even then, no matter how careful I might be, the structure might come crashing down. And thankfully the bananas are still firm enough that almost no damage is done to them. A few got knocked off, but even those will be fine in a couple weeks when they all start turning yellow. Until then, that entire bunch sits in the dark of a tool shed.

To Helen, Just Two Words


Among New York chefs, there is, reportedly, a thriving black market in fresh yuzu smuggled from Japan.Photograph from World Discovery / Alamy

Thank you:


I suffer terribly from what you might call a paralysis of wonder. When I become the custodian of something truly marvellous, notably beautiful, or a little bit rare, I worry so much about using it for a sufficiently special purpose that, more often than not, I fail ever to use it at all. My kitchen, in particular, is a graveyard of reverent neglect: a golden bottle of sunflower oil, pressed by monks in an ancient Georgian monastery, long past rancid; a little jar of barbecue sauce folded into my palms years ago by a grizzled pitmaster in Tennessee; a desiccated hunk of white truffle tucked in molding white rice; bags of international potato chips hanging on far beyond their sell-by dates. Continue reading

Elderberries, Up & Coming From The Past


Heiko Wolfraum/dpa/AP

Thanks to Marisa Endicott at Mother Jones for this:

This Ancient Fruit Holds Secrets for How to Farm in Climate Change

Respect your elder-berries.

Cloverleaf Farm, a small produce operation in Davis, California, managed to do okay during the extreme drought that lasted from 2012 to 2016. But in the first wet year after the long dry period, the farm lost its entire apricot crop to disease—$40,000 to $50,000 down the drain.

Researchers predict that as climate change worsens, there will be more frequent shifts between extreme dry spells and floods. As Cloverleaf learned the hard way, the phenomenon is already taking a toll on growers in the country’s largest food producing state. During the drought, California’s agricultural and related industries lost $2.7 billion in one year alone. Big cash crops like almonds and grapes are at particular risk in the future, unnerving farmers and vintners already taking hits from erratic and extreme weather. Continue reading

Apricots, Comfort & Inspiration


Apricots were often featured in the intricate dessert displays of 18th-century France. Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Two seemingly opposed ideas can, sometimes be compatible. For example, even though this post made me think about traveling to taste the place, I can also relate to Yotam Ottolenghi’s opening paragraph, entirely:


A tart made with poached apricots, marzipan, pistachios and pastry cream was inspired by the elaborate pastry-making at Versailles. Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

People tend to belong to one of two opposite camps: those who like their food to impress and surprise and those who want it to comfort and delight. These days, I find myself steadily drifting from the contrived faction to the comfort camp. This, I suspect, has to do with age and a certain wish to reconnect with my childhood.

But my interest in that other extreme was recently piqued by the exhibition “Visitors to Versailles,” which is on view through July 29 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I am hosting an evening there this month to celebrate the exhibition, and I asked a group of world-class pastry chefs to create highly elaborate cakes inspired by the court of Versailles. Continue reading

Banana Futures


Japanese Mongee bananas debuted this winter, bred to be cold-resistant and pesticide-free. Plus: you can eat the peel. Courtesy of D&T Farm Inc

When we talk about the future of bananas, it is often looking backwards protectively. But forward is an option as this story below illustrates, as with other edibles, likewise:

A Banana Grown At Subzero Temps Also Has An Edible Peel

BananaA Japanese farm introduced a new crop this winter: an organic banana with a peel that’s thin enough to eat. In a nod to this appealing outer covering, Setsuzo Tanaka, the banana’s inventor, has named his creation the Mongee (“mon-gay”) banana — which means “incredible banana” in Japanese.

“Setsuzo’s original purpose was to make a delicious banana with no pesticides,” Tetsuya Tanaka, a spokesperson for D&T Farms, the company behind the banana, writes in an email. Setsuzo Tanaka spent four decades tinkering with tropical fruit before the Mongee was born.

But if pesticides were his main concern, why not just grow a normal organic banana? Aren’t all bananas equally tasty? Continue reading

Fruit With Alternative Beauty


And now for something completely different:

Morrisons to sell ‘wonky’ pomegranates to meet rising demand

Fruit will come in different sizes and have blemishes but will cost 30p, compared to average 74p in UK supermarkets

A UK supermarket is to be the first to sell misshapen or “wonky”pomegranates, in order to keep prices down in the face of surging demand from consumers.

Packs of four will be sold in Morrisons for £1.20 – equivalent to 30p per fruit – when the average price of a pomegranate in UK supermarkets is 74p. Continue reading

Cosmic Crisp


A worker takes a break after planting young Cosmic Crisp trees in an orchard near Wenatchee, Wash. Dan Charles/NPR

The folks at the salt, over at National Public Radio, deliver (click the image above to go to the story) the crispest, juiciest food stories:

Get ready for a new kind of apple. It’s called Cosmic Crisp, and farmers in Washington state, who grow 70 percent of the country’s apples, are planting these trees by the millions. The apples themselves, dark red in color with tiny yellow freckles, will start showing up in stores in the fall of 2019.: Continue reading

Breaking Rules When The Result Is Worth It


The strawberries at Harry’s Berries, grown in Oxnard, Calif., are harvested only once every five days, to give the fruit time to reach its peak flavor. Credit Amy Dickerson for The New York Times

Renegade behavior in the abstract attracts us almost always. We admit to favoring examples, cases, histories that point to unusual choices that we think provide a model for others to follow to solve problems. However, sometimes there is no choice but to point to the downside of renegade behavior, aka breaking the rules on which society depends. And there are plenty of lousy renegades we read about but do not foul up these pages with. Today, it’s coming up strawberries. Thanks to Rick and Molly and to Karen Stabiner for bringing this story forward:

Red, Ripe and Renegade: Berries That Break All the Rules

“This one should be O.K.,” he said, sounding not quite convinced. Then again, his definition of ripe is more stringent than most. Continue reading

Figs and Ficus

Photo by Milo Inman

A past employee who used to be a regular contributor here, writing about all things Indian – and in particular, from Kerala – would publish frequently about plants and animals, among other subjects, and once, he wrote three posts in quick succession about three trees in the Ficus genus: the Elephant Ear, the Country Fig, and the Sacred Bodhi. The following month, another author here wrote on his feelings about ficus. This week, journalist Ben Crair writes about figs for the New Yorker:

The produce section of the grocery store is a botanical disaster. Most people know that a tomato is technically a fruit, but so is an eggplant, a cucumber, and a spaghetti squash. A banana, which grows from a flower with a single ovary, is actually a berry, while a strawberry, which grows from a flower with several ovaries, isn’t a berry at all but an aggregate fruit. The most confusing classification, though, will start showing up on American shelves this month. Shoppers will find mission figs with the grapes, kiwis, and other fruit, but a clever botanist would sell them at the florist, with the fresh-cut roses. Although many people dismiss figs as a geriatric delicacy or the sticky stuff inside bad cookies, they are, in fact, something awesome: enclosed flowers that bloom modestly inward, unlike the flamboyant showoffs on other plants. Bite a fig in half and you’ll discover a core of tiny blossoms.

Continue reading

Jackfruit: Potential Meat Substitute?

A vegetarian restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri, offers the Jack BBQ: jackfruit, onions, and kosher dill pickles served on sourdough bread. PHOTOGRAPH BY STEVE HEBERT, THE NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX

This question has actually already been answered here before. Last year, Rosanna wrote about the fruit, revolving around an article from The Guardian that featured a recipe for pulled pork but with jackfruit replacing the meat. Earlier that month, we had linked to an NPR segment that called them a “nutritional bonanza” that may help with the food crisis in developing countries. And the year before that, we had written another post calling the fruit a “mega food.” So when will that happen for good? Hopefully, soon! Stacie Stukin writes for NatGeo on the would-be fad-food:

When Annie Ryu first encountered a large, spiky orb called jackfruit, she was perplexed. “I thought it was a porcupine,” she says.

But when she ate it prepared in a curry, she was amazed at how meat-like it was in taste and texture. That was in 2011, when she was traveling in southern India as a premed student helping community health workers improve prenatal care. By 2014, she had waylaid her medical career to start The Jackfruit Company.

Continue reading

Non-metaphorically Strange Fruit



A mix of tropical and hybrid fruits recently available in the United States. Credits: Photograph by Anthony Cotsifas. Styled by Michael Reynolds. Retouching: Anonymous Retouch. Prop assistant: Caleb Andriella. Photo assistants: Karl Leitz and Jess Kirkham. Fruit courtesy of Melissa’s Produce and Frieda’s Specialty Produce.

From the New York Times, the most unusual short news feature we have seen in some time just came to our attention. An April Fool’s item, perhaps? Click to the end of the story to see these “fruits” identified:

In a world of very few absolutes, here is one: Nature has no more perfect offering than fruit, nothing that seems better engineered to delight and entice humankind’s every sense. But of course, the real purpose of fruit is not to make humans happy, but to make more fruit: While it is the result of a relentless biological process that we happen to enjoy, the creation of fruit itself — from its larval stage as a flower to its dropping from the tree or bush onto the ground and growing into a new tree or bush — would go on whether we were there to appreciate it or not. Continue reading

Keeping Flies Away from Olives

 Every year in Catalonia, Spain, farmers have to fight the olive fruit flies so they don’t ruin the year’s crop. PHOTO: Wikipedia

Every year in Catalonia, Spain, farmers have to fight the olive fruit flies so they don’t ruin the year’s crop. PHOTO: Wikipedia

The olive fly (Bactrocera oleae) is the single major pest for olives, causing widespread crop damage and significant financial losses to Europe’s olive farmers. The control of the fly has been largely based on the use of chemicals, but the intense use of insecticides leads to development of insecticide resistance, which makes control problematic. In addition, legislation on insecticides have seen some of them being phased out. An alternative? The almost-DIY fly trap.

Continue reading

Stephan Brusche, Come To Kerala!

Stephan Brusche (@isteef)

Stephan Brusche (@isteef) From left to right: tiger, WBD, elephant

Hospitality is in our DNA, but we always want to go the extra mile for the those who tickle our creative fancy. In fact, World Banana Day touches us on multiple dimensions, and we thank our newest contributor, Rosanna Abrachan, for bringing it to our attention.

Stephen Brusche is someone who clearly enjoys playing with his food, and scrolling through his gallery it was close to impossible to choose favorites from over 200 fabulously creative examples, crafted with a wink and smile at both the sacred and the profane. We settled on 2 of our iconic Kerala fauna above, but be prepared to lose yourself in the images when you visit his site. Continue reading

Throwback Thursday: Bog

Photo credit: BU Dining Services

About this time two years ago, I came across the YouTube video featured in the #throwback Thursday post below. Hope you enjoy it, especially in light of this week’s post on peatlands!

Original Post Date: December 28, 2012

Earlier this week I wrote about an entirely different sort of swamp. This brief post is about a topic much more in tune with the holiday season: cranberries. Grown in bogs with layers of peat, sand, gravel, and clay, cranberries are native to North American wetlands (our readers across the pond will probably know the European variety of the fruit as lingonberries). In the United States they are primarily grown in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin (ordered alphabetically, not by output). Something not many people may know is that these cranberry bogs are cyclically flooded with vast amounts of water every season; some might worry over the constant waste of this precious liquid in areas of major cranberry production, or the contamination of water tables with pesticides and fertilizers common to agricultural use.

But I am about to tell you about some of the advantages cranberry-growers have over other industrial agriculturalists in terms of their water utilization. Why will I share this with you? Well, cranberry sauce features prevalently in the traditions of recent holidays, namely Thanksgiving and Christmas (and was thus probably consumed in an overwhelming majority of American households at least once in the past 60 days), plus my grandparents swear by cranberry juice, but I also recently found out that cranberries–and the water they are flooded with for harvesting–make for excellent art, or sport. What I never would have guessed is that Red Bull would be the one to show me this; just watch the video below:

Continue reading

Bring On The Pawpaw!



We are always interested in innovative methods for resuscitating the value of heritage, whatever form it may take, the fruity included so listen to this short podcast about the nearly lost pawpaw (thanks to National Public Radio, USA):

food for thought

A Coming-Out Party For The Humble Pawpaw, Native Fruit Darling

September 05, 2014 3:59 PM ET

If you’ve never tasted a pawpaw, now is the moment.

Continue reading

A Biodiversity Triumph at Marari

As I mentioned in my last post, the new property, Marari Pearl, could easily be called the Beach Banana Genome Project because it has 30 varieties of bananas being grown on it. When Amie and I saw the list of everything being grown on the property, our joy was akin to kids on christmas.

Have you ever seen a rambutan?

Have you ever seen a rambutan?

Since I’ve been reading The Fruit Hunters by Adam Leith Gollner, I’ve realized the role variety awareness plays in conserving biodiversity. Simply not knowing about all the varieties allows agribusiness to monopolize the market with one or two varieties that best suit global trade. For example, when people only saw red and yellow apples in the supermarket, they did not know what they were missing out on, so they weren’t as picky. Once Fujis and Galas became known, customers began to demand more. Knowledge of varieties is seen as a threat to supermarket because customers focused on varieties become less easy to please with subpar, out-of-season fruits.

So with that being said, simple awareness of varieties is a method of raising the bar. It helps promote biodiversity because people are less willing to accept generic and standardized fruit.

On the Marari Pearl property, there are pomelos, rambutans, and tamarinds. There are several types of jackfruit,  lovi-lovis, mangos, and oranges. I was particularly excited to see the miracle fruit on the list. Continue reading

Humanity’s Diet Makes A Difference, Historically As Well As Futuristically

On the timescale of evolutionary history, paleo enthusiasts note, agriculture is a fad. Credit Illustration by Mike Ellis.

On the timescale of evolutionary history, paleo enthusiasts note, agriculture is a fad. Credit Illustration by Mike Ellis.

Since the early days of this blog we have been hungry consumers of environmental long form journalism, of which Elizabeth Kolbert’s New Yorker chronicles are best-in-category. They are also, frankly, almost always depressing.

Nonetheless, they put humanity into its natural context. This not-at-all-depressing chronicle demonstrates the value of that contextualization well:

The first day I put my family on a Paleolithic diet, I made my kids fried eggs and sausage for breakfast. If they were still hungry, I told them, they could help themselves to more sausage, but they were not allowed to grab a slice of bread, or toast an English muffin, or pour themselves a bowl of cereal.

Continue reading

Throwback Thursday: A Fruit Most Treasured


Pomegranate tree at Harvest Fresh Farm. Photo credit: Kayleigh Levitt

Pomegranate tree at Harvest Fresh Farm. Photo credit: Kayleigh Levitt

With Kayleigh stationed at Cardamom County we’re currently exploring ways to make our organic garden more productive, despite the challenges posed by local wildlife. With that goal in mind we visited a colleague’s farm in Tamil Nadu, in an area where they don’t face monkey challenges, but some of their produce requires special netting to protect against birds and bats.

While there we enjoyed a farm tour that included harvesting a few different species of pomegranate, which happens to be part of my daily menu for many years. (Frequent guests at 51 will notice the healthy and delicious seeds making an appearance in many ways.) Continue reading