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Page 190 PART IV Vegetables Fresh vegetables are increasingly popular today owing to a growing appreciation of their importance in human nutrition. They supply vitamins, minerals, trace elements, dietary fiber, and some protein. They tend to be particularly rich in vitamins A and C. However, people are also consuming more because vegetables provide the diet with variety, flavor, and zest. Nevertheless, millions of people, particularly in the tropics, do not get enough. Indeed, the lack of fresh vegetables is often so serious in the tropical diet that it contributes to malnutrition. Vegetables are especially important for providing much-needed vitamins and minerals to malnourished children in particular, and the current lack of them is a serious concern. For example, lack of vitamin A—an abundant ingredient in many colored vegetables—is the world's major nutritional deficiency and the leading cause of blindness in children in Africa and elsewhere. Vegetables are good for both subsistence and commercial use. They produce the most food per area planted and they grow quickly. There is every indication that their production will increase in importance, especially for a large proportion of the world's neediest people. This section describes two groups of promising, but little-known, Andean native vegetables: peppers and squashes and their relatives. These provided the Incas and their predecessors with food, and they show outstanding promise to improve the nutrition of peoples in many parts of the world today. Both squashes and peppers are popular throughout the world, but the species described here are unknown outside the Andes. 1 They offer good nutrition, many new tastes, and potential new crops for scores of countries. 1 Botanically speaking, peppers and squashes are fruits, but they are not normally used as dessert fruits, and in this book we have collected them in this section on vegetables.
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Page 191 HOW THE TOMATO SUCCEEDED To provide perspective on the possible future for the vegetables described in the following section, it is helpful to consider the unusual development of another vegetable with an Andean origin, the tomato. The tomato derives from a genus of weedy Andean plants with red, orange, or green berries of currant to cherry size. But although ancient graves have yielded remnants of dozens of different native Andean food crops, nothing indicates that tomatoes were ever cultivated for food in their ancient homeland. No samples or pottery depictions have been found. However, although it was not a food of the Incas, by the time of the Spanish Conquest the cherry tomato had reached Mexico and apparently was being cultivated and eaten there, at least in a small way. Indeed, the plant's common name derives from the Mexican (actually Nahuatl) word “tomatl.” The tomato apparently reached Europe in 1523. However, for at least another century, it remained largely unappreciated. Although by 1600 it had spread throughout Europe, almost everywhere it was regarded as toxic and as a mere curiosity, the “ pomme d'amour” or “love apple.” * The first tomato seeds to cross the Atlantic undoubtedly went to Spain and were of yellow-fruited varieties. ** It is thought that they were quickly passed on to Italy, probably through the kingdom of Naples, which had come under Spanish rule in 1522. Italians were the first people anywhere to show real enthusiasm for the tomato as a food. It was in Italy that the large-fruited tomatoes of commerce first gained acceptance. Eventually, this “nonfood of the Incas” became synonymous with Italian cuisine—the base for sauces to go on pastas from lasagna to linguine. Although Italians eagerly accepted the plant, northern Europeans stubbornly resisted. They started consuming tomatoes on a large scale only in the second half of the last century. To them, the smell of the plant's foliage was said to be as revolting as the thought that southern Europeans would eat the fruit. European voyagers spread the tomato to Southeast Asia before 1650 and to North America by about the time of the American Revolution. Thomas Jefferson had tomatoes in his garden by 1781. For another * “The whole plant is of a ranke and stinking savour,” said John Gerard (The Herball or Generall Historie of Plants, 1597; reprinted 1984, Apt. Bks., Inc., New York) under the heading “Apples of Love.” Pierandrea Mattioli described it as mala insansa, “unhealthy apple.” ** In France, Olivier de Serres, agronomist under Henry IV, wrote that “love apples are marvelous and golden.” His enthusiasm, however, was not necessarily for their taste, for, he continued, “they serve commonly to cover outhouses and arbors.”
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Page 192 century, however, Americans regarded the plant with suspicion. Even into the 1900s there was much doubt about possible toxicity and adverse health effects. To eat a raw tomato was generally believed to be suicidal. Only by prolonged cooking, it was widely reported, could the tomato's venom be neutralized. In 1860, the bible of the American housewife, Godey's Lady's Book, cautioned that tomatoes should “always be cooked for three hours.” Only relatively recently has the tomato become a major world food. It was in commercial production late last century in the United States but came into intensive production only about the time of World War I. Even today, its acceptance in tropical Asia and Africa is not great, but the tomato is still continuing its diaspora. In just the last 20 years, it has taken hold so strongly in China that it is now the “number one” vegetable there. Despite conservative culinary traditions and a wealth of native vegetable crops, the tomato is becoming increasingly important in the Chinese diet. (A special kind of tomato sauce has long been known the world over by the name “ketchup,” derived from the Chinese word koechiap, meaning brine of pickled fish.) Regardless of its slow beginnings, the tomato is now one of the top 30 food crops of the world. Nearly 20 million tons are produced annually, most in Europe and North America. The United States now not only grows a big proportion of the world's tomatoes, it is the leading consumer, followed by Italy, Spain, the Arab nations, Brazil, Japan, and Mexico. The Modern Tomato's Mixed Parentage Today's tomato is more than just the one species Lycopersicon esculentum. Plant breeders have engineered it to meet modern requirements by incorporating genes from many of its wild relatives. For this purpose, plant explorers have gathered wild tomato seeds, especially in the Andes. One such collection was made in 1962 when two young botanists, Hugh Iltis and Donald Ugent, were studying the wild potatoes of the dry valleys near Abancay, Peru. Eating lunch on a rocky mountain slope, they picked the fruits from a scraggly wild tomato plant growing nearby. The fruits were green and only the size of marbles, but they helped make a tasty meal. Although not involved in tomato studies, the two plant taxonomists saved the seed and later mailed it to renowned tomato breeder Charles Rick. In his University of California plots, Rick planted the seeds and discovered that the plant was new to science. It was named Lycopersicon chmielewskii in honor of a deceased Polish scientist and fellow tomato breeder. Rick soon noticed that the tiny fruits of this new tomato had a very high sugar content (11.5 percent)—almost twice the normal level. During almost a decade of cross-breeding, he transferred genes for high sugar content into horticultural lines of the common tomato. The result was large, red tomatoes with unusual sweetness and flavor. The content
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Page 193 of soluble solids (mainly sugars) was elevated from an average of about 5 percent to about 7 percent—a potential benefit of great economic value to California's tomato industry. This demonstrates how important even the least-known wild relatives of crops can be, especially for increasing yield and for introducing disease-and pest-resistance. For reasons of space, this report cannot deal with them, but it should be understood that the wild relatives are so important that, without them, many modern crops simply would not exist. Following are some of the other wild Andean ancestors and relatives that contribute genes to the modern tomato. L. peruvianum, a widespread Peruvian species, contributes resistance to pests and increases vitamin C content. L. pennellii, from dry hill slopes of western Peru, contributes drought resistance and high levels of vitamins A and C and sugar. L. esculentum var. cerasiforme, which grows on the warm eastern slopes of the Andes, helps plants tolerate high temperature and humidity and resist certain fungal diseases. L. chilense, native to coastal deserts of northern Chile and southern Peru, contributes genes for drought resistance. L. cheesmanii, from the Galapagos Islands, provides salt tolerance, high soluble solids, and the jointless fruit stalks that help tomatoes break off cleanly during mechanical harvesting. L. hirsutum, which grows in high altitudes of Ecuador and Peru, offers genes that resist numerous insects and mites and code for cold tolerance.
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