Some of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables we eat today are man-made hybrids. They were created through selective breeding, a process whereby only plants with favorable traits are replanted. In rare instances, insects were responsible for creating the hybrid plants through cross-pollination.
However, the insects would not have been able to cross-pollinate the plants if humans had not planted at least one of them in the area. Most of the entries on this list are surprising because the majority are fruits, nuts, and vegetables that we consider to be natural.
Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, collard greens, kohlrabi, and several closely related vegetables originated from the same plant species, Brassica oleracea. Its wild form is known as wild mustard and still exists today.
About 2,500 years ago, wild mustard only grew in some parts of Europe and the Mediterranean. Its taste varied greatly, depending on where it grew. Ancient Romans and Greeks soon realized that they could plant it for food. They engaged in selective breeding by planting seeds from wild mustard with larger leaves. The result was the vegetables that we call kale and collard greens.
Selective breeding continued in the 1600s when people bred wild mustard with bigger leaf buds. The result was a new vegetable covered with lots of leaves. This was the first cabbage. Wild mustard selected for its bigger stems became kohlrabi, the ones with small heads became brussels sprouts, and the ones with big flowers became broccoli and cauliflower.
The hybridization of wild mustard and its derivatives continued up to the 20th century. In 1928, Russian biologist Georgii Dmintrievich Karpechenko crossed a radish with a cabbage to produce what he called the rabbage. The rabbage should have been impossible because the radish is not related to the cabbage.
However, the plant never caught on because it failed at being either a radish or a cabbage. In 1993, a Japanese company crossbred broccoli with kai-lan to create broccolini. Kai-lan is not popular in the US. It is a derivative of wild mustard and is the Chinese version of broccoli.
Many varieties of orange exist today. However, every variety traces its roots to the man-made hybrid created by crossing the pomelo with the mandarin. The pomelo is almost as bitter as the grapefruit, while the mandarin is sweet. The mandarin has an orange color, and some people misidentify it as a variety of the orange. Wrong! The mandarin is an ancestor of the orange.
The history of the orange is unclear, but it is believed to have first appeared in southern China. Over the years, humans have selectively bred oranges to create many varieties, making it easy to confuse the orange with other citrus fruits. To be clear, a fruit needs to have evolved from the pomelo and mandarin to be considered an orange.
A tangerine is not considered an orange because it evolved from the mandarin but not the pomelo. However, the tangelo, which we will talk about shortly, is in a gray area. It is a cross between a tangerine and a pomelo. And as we mentioned already, the tangerine was created from the mandarin.
The modern peanut is a hybrid of two older types of peanuts, the Arachis ipaensis and the Arachis duranensis. The Arachis duranensis grows in the Andean valleys between Bolivia and Argentina, while the Arachis ipaensis grows inside Bolivia.
Both plants were so far apart that they couldn’t have crossbred naturally. Researchers discovered that the earliest settlers in South America took the Arachis duranensis from the Andean valleys as they migrated into today’s Bolivia 10,000 years ago.
However, the settlers did not quickly realize the potential of their new crop and it was the bees that actually cross-pollinated both peanuts. The result was a new peanut that is the ancestor of today’s peanuts.
The banana is a man-made hybrid of the wild Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana banana species. Musa acuminata has a fleshy inside, but it has a very unpleasant taste. Musa balbisiana has a pleasant-tasting inside but contains too many seeds.
Both bananas naturally crossbred in the forests of South Asia. However, the resultant banana, which is the ancestor of the modern banana, was sterile. About 10,000 years ago, early humans discovered the hybrid and learned that they could replant the shoots to create new trees. They engaged in selective breeding and only replanted bananas with favorable traits. This led to the creation of the modern banana.
Although we managed to create the perfect banana, we could not figure out a way to grow bananas from seeds. So, bananas will become extinct if we stop planting them. The absence of a seed also means that all bananas have the same genetic properties as they are replanted from the shoot of another tree. As a result, all the world’s banana trees could be wiped out by a single disease.
The almond is a man-made hybrid of the wild almond, which is notoriously bitter and could be deadly when consumed in considerable amounts. The history of the almond is unclear, and scientists cannot determine which variant of the wild almond was selectively bred to create the modern almond.
Scientists suspect that the wild ancestor of the almond is the Amygdalus fenzliana (Fritsch) Lipsky because its trees, seeds, and fruits resemble the modern almond. It is also found in Armenia and Azerbaijan, where the modern almond is believed to have been selectively bred by humans. Besides the origin, scientists cannot determine how our ancestors managed to create a perfect and sweet almond because the almond is poisonous.
The grapefruit first appeared after 1693 when a Captain Shaddock transported some pomelo seeds to the West Indies and planted them close to some orange trees. The pomelo and orange later cross-pollinated to create the grapefruit. However, the grapefruit was still unknown outside the Caribbean.
Europeans only learned of this citrus fruit in 1750 when Reverend Griffith Hughes encountered one. Hughes was so surprised with the discovery that he named the grapefruit “the forbidden fruit.” That was the name until 1814 when John Lunan called it the grapefruit because grapefruits resembled the smaller and unrelated grapes when they were still growing.
The grapefruit reached the United States in 1823 but was mistaken for the pomelo. It was only determined to be a distinct fruit in 1837. However, botanists were still confused about its origin. It wasn’t until 1948 that they discovered it was a hybrid of the pomelo and the orange.
Boysenberry is one fruit you have probably never heard of. It used to be popular. The boysenberry was created by Rudolph Boysen in the 1920s. It is considered to be a variant of the blackberry, although it is actually a hybrid of a blackberry and either the loganberry or the red raspberry. For all we know, it could even be a hybrid of all three. However, it looks more like a blackberry than the other two.
There are claims that the boysenberry is actually a cross between the Eastern dewberry and the man-made loganberry. The loganberry was created in 1881 when James Logan crossed a raspberry with a wild blackberry. However, the boysenberry was not a commercial success due to its short shelf life. It decays just two days after harvest.
Stores tried prolonging the shelf life of the boysenberry by harvesting and shipping them before they ripened. The plan ultimately failed because unripe boysenberries taste acidic. These days, the boysenberry is only sold at farmers markets.
As we mentioned earlier, the tangelo is a man-made hybrid of the tangerine and the pomelo. In fact, that’s where the tangelo got its name. However, it is common for people to confuse the tangelo with the tangerine, mandarin, and orange.
To add to the confusion, there are different varieties of tangelos and all are not necessarily created from tangerines and pomelos. One common variant, the Minneola tangelo, is a hybrid of the tangerine and Duncan grapefruit. Another variant was created by crossing a mandarin with a pomelo, which technically makes it an orange.
The tangelo is believed to have first appeared in the forests of Southeast Asia 3,500 years ago when insects cross-pollinated the mandarin with a fruit that is closely related to the grapefruit. However, today’s tangelos are the result of a selective breeding program that started in the 1800s.
At the forefront of the tangelo project was the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which created the popular Minneola tangelo sold across the United States. The USDA released the seeds of the Minneola tangelo in 1931. It is named after the city of Minneola, Florida.
Carrots have not always been orange. Natural carrots were either white or purple and probably inedible. There are accounts that white carrots were eaten in the Roman Empire, but historians believe that they could be parsnips, white carrots, or both. The orange carrot is a hybrid of the yellow carrot, which is a hybrid of the white carrot.
The earliest-known ancestor of the modern consumable carrot appeared in Persia in the 10th century. Some accounts say it was white, and others say it was purple. Unlike today’s carrots, those vegetables had lots of smaller roots of varying sizes. The Persians selectively bred the carrots with the biggest roots to create bigger roots and, ultimately, a big single root.
As the selective breeding continued, the carrots mutated from white or purple to yellow and finally orange. Selective breeding of carrots continued until modern times to improve their flavor and color.
The modern strawberry is a man-made hybrid of the smaller wild strawberry, which has a shorter shelf life as well as a better flavor and aroma. The modern strawberry first appeared in France in the 18th century. However, the hybridization program began much earlier.
In the 1300s, French botanists started planting wild strawberries in their gardens when they realized that wild strawberries reproduced by cloning. Strangely, some strawberries never produced fruits and half of the ones that did suddenly stopped cloning and making fruits after some years.
The French managed to create wild strawberries that were 15–20 times their normal size, but they were still incredibly small. Antoine Nicolas Duchesne created the modern strawberry on July 6, 1764, when he crossed a male Fragaria moschata with a female Fragaria chiloensis from Chile.
Before Duchesne created his strawberry, French botanists had never realized that strawberries had male and female parts. This was the reason some never produced fruits as some botanists had planted either males or females. Duchesne continued working on the strawberry until the French Revolution, leaving American and British botanists to perfect the modern strawberry.