Friday, September 7, 2012

The Fruit Hunters

"Writing this story meant getting to know fruit nuts, fruit smuggles, fruit explorers, fruit fetishists, fruit inventors, fruit cops, fruit robbers, fruitarians, and even a fruit massager. These characters offer a glimpse into our planet's diversity- both botanical and human."
(The Fruit Hunters, p.8)

The quote above by Adam Leith Gollner is a great idea of what all is included in his book, The Fruit Hunters; A Story of Nature, Adventure, Commerce, and Obsession, that explores worlds that most of us will never see.

This book has inspired me to step outside the box of contemporary fruit and has encouraged me to try new and different fruits and their many varieties. I hope this article inspires you to not only read his book, but to be willing to explore the many different fruits that God has created for our delight. While I do not agree with everything that Adam writes, as he openly believes in evolution, the information in this book is not to be ignored.

Adam shares his experiences meeting some of the worlds most famous fruit hunters on his journey to discover for himself some of the most exotic fruits in the world. Classified as ultra exotics 

A Tomato is a Fruit but a Strawberry Isn't? What!

That's right folks! A common error as the difference between fruits and vegetables is largely glossed over in schools along with how the fruit becomes a fruit from the flowers that were once on the plant. 
    "In human terms, think of a pregnant woman: a fruit is the plant version of the amniotic bubble that contains the fetus. The baby is the seed (or seeds, as with quintuplets); the entire spherical container in shich the baby floats is the fruit. A fruit is how a plant gives birth. 
     Fruits are seed envelopes that contain within them the genetic coding that will further the entire plant. Their role is twofold: to protect and nourish the seeds, and also to facilitate the dispersal of the seeds."

Some plants (especially fruit plants) reproduce by flowers. These plants are classified as Angiosperms: plants whose seed is enclosed by an ovary.
Parts of the flower consist of the Petals, Sepal, Carpels, and Stamens.
The Pistil is the collective term for the Carpel(s). Each Carpel consists of  the stigma, style, and ovary.

Stamens are the male reproductive parts: they consist of the anther (which makes pollen) and the filament. Pollen consists of male reproductive cells that fertilize ovules.

Fertilization: Pollen must fertilize an ovule to produce a viable seed. This process is called pollonization, and is often aided by small animals such as bees, which fly from flower to flower collecting sweet nectar. As they visit flowers, they spread pollen around, depositing it on some stigmas. After a male's pollen grains have landed on the stigma during fertilization, pollen tubes develop within the style, burrowing down to the ovary, where the sperm fertilizes an ovum (an egg cell), in the ovule. After fertilization, the ovule develops into a seed in the ovary.

Fruit by definition from
1.any product of plant growth useful to humans or animals.
2.the developed ovary of a seed plant with its contents and accessory parts, as the pea pod, nut, tomato, or pineapple.
3.the edible part of a plant developed from a flower, with any accessory tissues, as the peach, mulberry, or banana.
4.the spores and accessory organs of ferns, mosses, fungi,algaeor lichen.

Therefore, any plant part containing a seed is a fruit.  "Fruits are seed envelopes that contain within them the genetic coding that will further the entire plant." The true result of this is that many vegetables that we consume are actually fruits. This includes green bell peppers, avacados, cucumbers, zucchini, pumpkins, eggplants, corn, and olives. "Sesame seeds come from sesame fruits. Those luffa sponges we use in the shower are fruits of the Luffa cylindrica tree. Vanilla is the fruit of an orchid. ...Poppy seeds come from fruit pods whose sap is full of morphine. ... The top six crops in the world are all technically fruits: wheat, corn, rice, barley, sorghum and soy. Even though grains are small, they too contain seeds. " (p.22) 

That's not all folks!  Nuts are considered a fruit as well as most are actually seeds of a fruit!
So, to answer the strawberry question- the fleshy part of the berry is the carrier for the seeds, which are the true fruit!

What are Super Exotics? What Aisle are They In at the Store?

Papya, bananas, pinapple, kiwi, coconuts,  are all considered exotic fruits. So what are super exotic fruits? These are fruits that are only (mostly-there are a few exceptions) available in their native land.

As I said before there are exceptions as the import regulations have allowed different fruits to become available in the U.S., the dragon fruit being one of them.

In addition to import regulations that are generally concerned with maintaining the flora and fauna that exist here naturally- they don't want to introduce something that could be detrimental to our ecosystem, the ability for the general populace to get these fruits in a public store is next to impossible because of the mass production that is involved. 

Most fruits that we get in the store today have been picked green, refrigerated, shipped, ripened with gases, and placed on our store shelves. Most fruit is not up to the task of this harsh handling.

Some fruits have to be tree ripened, and for these fruits, their mass availability is even smaller- they are ripe for only a few days, so the chance of getting a really good one is considerably smaller than if you picked it off the tree yourself.

Hawaii- an Ed-venture in Taste!

"Hawaii is at the crossroads of the East and West, and every wave of immigrant always arrived with seeds in their pant cuffs, in their pockets and sen into their shirts".
Because of it's wonderful location and climate, Hawaii is home to some of the more exotic fruits of this world thanks to humans, birds, air and ocean currents bringing seeds from all over. So for those of you who have been reading this and drooling, like I was over the book (which is way better and has many more descriptions), there is hope! We don't have to travel halfway around the world (for those of us in US/North America) and risk giant spiders etc., just for a taste of these fruits, now we can just go on an Ed-venture!

Educational Adventures are becoming more popular for families, and those who just love to learn! Hawaii has a great agriculture that is full of small farms specializing in ultra exotics. If you look in the right places here are some of the fruits you are liable to find:

"The thing about fruit tourism is that wherever you go it's always different," Jiatt says.
"Nature is amazing all over the world. There are tens of thousands of different types of fruit that we know of so far. How many are in your supermarket? Maybe twenty-five different types?"
The following websites have different seeds available for purchase of these wonderful ultra-exotics:

Miracle Fruit

Yes that's it's name! But it has other names too. It is also known as sweeter in Pidgin, assarbah by the Fante, and it's scientific name is Synsepalum dulcificum. It is now commercially sold as Dulci fruit.

The berry's first mention in literature was in the diary of Chevalier des Marchais in 1725. It was again reported by Archibald Dalzel an adventurer and slave trader in 1793 in his History of Dahomey. The first thorough description was given by W.F. Daniell in the Pharmaceutical Journal in 1852. David Fairchild came across this fruit in 1927 at the Mount Cameroon Biodiversity Conservation Center in Cameroon, Africa.

So what is the miracle about this fruit? Well it turns anything that tastes sour, sweet! "I greedily ate up the whole lemon, detecting hints of crystillized grapes and berries."The juice of the berry coats the tongue creating this wonderful effect. "...there are little sugars attached to the miraculin protein. These sugars position themselves right next to - but just out of reach of- the sweet-sensitive sites on your tongue. The seet receptors keep trying to get a hold or those sugars, almost like a donkey keeps trying to bite a carrot. But only when you eat a sour food, like a lemon, can the donkey suddenly grab the carrot. ... The sourness isn't being converted into sweet; its taste is being overwhelmed by the sugars attached to the protein. You don't swallow the sugars attached to the miraculin. They linger on your tongue for hte next hour, waiting to be reactivated by more sourness. And then the effect dissipates."

In 1964, the American Chemical Society declared it an "unexcelled" sweetener, however, it was later determined to be to expensive to synthesize. 

This is where the story of Bob Harvey comes in. "Harvey devised a way to make miraculin available in pill form. After biology professors at Florida State University managed to isolate the active protein in 1968, Harvey developed a method of growing the extract ina netrient-rich culture yeilding a hunred-thousand-fold increase.  This concentrate was then freeze dried, crushed into powder and pressed into tablets. The pills were easily stored, distributed and sold, unlike the fresh berries, which bruise easily and have a shelf life of only two days after being picked." In the late 1960 he developed a company called Miralin Corporation, raised funds, and worked on developing products based on the commercial fruit.

Harvey had everything in line to produce his products until a few weeks before the FDA approval went through when some weird things started happening. He was followed by mysterious cars, cars would drive slowly by with people taking pictures of his office, and finally his office was broken into. Up until this point he had been on good terms with the FDA and everything was set to be approved in the catergory as "generally recognized as safe" when they were suddenly banned.
"I was in shock," says Harvey. "We were on very good terms with the FDA and enjoyed their full support. There was no sign of any problem. Without any opportunity to know what the concern was and who raised it, and to respond to it - they just banned the product." The Miracle Berry by Adam Fowler, BBC News Magazine, April 28th, 2008.

Because the products were aimed for the diabetic community with major companies on board-- Life Savors, Dentyne, Chiclets, and Trident, the sugar companies were looking at a major loss of income. The article The Miracle Berry published by the BBC News Magazine, went a step above and beyond and called Big Sugar, the FDA, and the Calorie Control Council (they represent artificial sweetener manufacturers in the US) and all refused to comment.

Some claimes have been made that the destruction of the Miralin company was due to the sugar industry, others say it was just competition from other competitors who were developing other fruit based sweeteners from African fruit. One was Monellin an extract from the Serendipity berry which is currently banned in the US and Europe but is used in Japan. The other was Thaumatin, from the katemfe fruit. Thaumatin is approved as a sweetener in Europe, Isreal, and Japan. It has a GRAS (generall recognized as safe) status in the US.

The good news is that Miriculin now known as Dulci has overcome the odds and is now on the market. There aren't any companies using it, as far as I know, but there is hope for the future. For now, one can purchase the berries, powder, gum, or lollies that will distribute the fruit's sweetener property on one's tongue. Check it out!

Natural Fruit Sweeteners

The most recent fruit sweetener on the market is Monk fruit. It is being marketed as Nectresse by the makers of Splenda- it comes in an orange box and is available at Walmart. (Side note: Splenda is in no way a natural sweetener and the health problems associated with it's use are prolific. I highly recommend those who use it to do some serious research before continuing to do so.) Monk fruit also goes by the name Lo Han Sweetener.

The main product that I have found that uses monk fruit as it's sweetener of choice is the company Arctic Zero which produces ice cream. I was so happy upon this discovery and the news that many Kroger stores now carry their product. There are 150 calories in an entire pint of their ice cream.


For those of you reading this article and are now drooling, dying to go to Hawaii, or ordering a greenhouse to grow your own peanut butter fruit, believe me I understand, and I recommend reading the book for more detailed descriptions of drool worthy delights! 

Resourced Articles for Further Reading: The Miracle Berry by Adam Fowler, BBC News Magazine, April 28th, 2008.