Popular Foods That Look Completely Different Today


Humans have been eating fruit, vegetables,
and meat for a long, long time, so long in fact, that what we put into our mouths has
been evolving alongside us. Let’s examine some foods that look completely
different from what they used to. In the seventeenth century, Italian still
life painter Giovanni Stanchi painted a scene with peaches, pears, and some other fruit,
including a super weird-looking thing in the lower right corner. It’s a good thing for us that he made that
particular artistic choice, because it gives us a glimpse into what he knew as a watermelon. It turns out that if you hate seeds, you’d
have hated 17th century watermelons. Centuries-old artwork can provide a fascinating
glimpse into what fruits and vegetables looked like before we started selectively cultivating
them. Watermelon, for example, came from Africa
and likely was a familiar garden staple in Europe by the 1600s. The flesh probably didn’t taste much different
from today’s watermelon, and it would’ve been a super sweet treat. Over the next few centuries, gardeners started
selectively breeding watermelons to have more of the bright red flesh and less of the white
rind. We all know what a banana looks like today. But if you peeled one of the wild ancestors
of today’s modern fruits, you might be in for a surprise. Let’s just say that if you suffer from a fear
of holes, your flight response would kick into high gear. Fortunately for us, modern bananas have been
hybridized, cultivated, and domesticated into the soft, squishy fruits we all know and love. “That’s right, Britta. It’s a banana.” It’s a process that started somewhere around
13,500 to 10,700 years ago in areas like Sri Lanka and China. The oldest signs of people taking wild bananas
and turning them into a legitimate crop come from Papua New Guinea, and they’ve likely
changed form so many times that it’s impossible to document them all. Interestingly enough, it’s possible we’ll
see another shift in the banana in the near future. The banana we eat today is the Cavendish,
which replaced the Gros Michel in 1947 after an outbreak of the devastating Panama disease. But considering that these sterile, cloned
bananas are very susceptible to a new strain of fungus called Tropical Race 4, we might
be on the brink of a whole new banana, hopefully one with no holes. Today’s apples are delicious, huge and brightly
colored, ranging from super sweet to super tart. But none of these apples grow in the wild,
and it took a ton of careful cultivation to get those varieties we take for granted every
time we go to the supermarket. But it turns out that the ancient ancestor
of Granny Smith and Honeycrisp is still out there, at least for now. It’s called Malus sieversii, and it seems
to only grow wild in the forests of Kazakhstan, where they’re eaten and spread by bears. It’s one of four likely keystone ancestors
of modern apples, and it’s very small but very sweet. A single wild tree might have a rainbow of
different-colored apples, and they’ll even taste different, too. Malus sieversii were domesticated somewhere
around 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, alongside a few other varieties that grew wild alongside
the Silk Road. Unfortunately, as they began to be cultivated
for flavor, size, and uniformity, they also lost some of their tolerance for things like
disease and changing climates. Going back to the forests of Kazakhstan and
re-sampling some of the ancient apples that grow there might unlock new potential for
breeding hardier, still-delicious apples, and we might just see another shift in this
lunchtime staple. “How do you like them apples?!” Corn has come a long way since farmers in
Mexico began selecting kernels from the biggest and best ears to plant for the next season. Those first steps toward domestication happened
around 10,000 years ago, and it happened surprisingly quickly. A few theories on the domestication of corn
have been put forward. The most popular is that it started as a genetic
mutation of the teosinte, a grass that has kernels that not only look similar to corn,
but that can cross-breed with today’s corn and produce viable offspring. Researchers have determined that there are
only five genes that are different between teosinte and corn, in spite of their differences
in appearance. Wild teosinte kernels are small, hard seeds
that grow in long spikes of only five to seven rows, while corn has lost those hard seeds
and replaced them with husks that prevent reproduction without interference. If you hate shucking a dozen ears of corn
for dinner, imagine needing to shatter the kernel of hundreds of teosinte spikes for
a meal! When it comes to milestones in the development
of humankind, the shift from hunting and gathering to domestication and agriculture is a pretty
big one. Archaeologists and historians are still a
little unclear about just how that all happened, but they are fairly certain pigs were domesticated
early on, and independently in different areas. Humankind was living alongside, and eating,
pigs around 10,000 years ago, and people in Eastern Turkey seem to have been the first
to do it. The pigs that first made our ancestors salivate
were nothing like the modern pigs we today turn into bacon sandwiches. Researchers have been able to trace modern
pig DNA back to their wild boar ancestors. Different pigs have been linked to different
wild boar populations, but comparing 6,000-year old skulls from pigs and wild boars shows
that the domesticated versions were getting smaller and easier to handle. Just how domestication happened is still debated,
but it’s generally agreed that some hunters might’ve started realizing it was easier to
keep pigs at home instead of going out to look for them. Thus, they started breeding the ones with
better dispositions. Eventually, those more docile pigs created
lines of piglets that were even more docile than the last, eventually giving us the pigs
we know and love to eat today. “Bacon?! Gotta get that bacon!” Check out one of our newest videos right here! Plus, even more Mashed videos about your favorite
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