If someone handed you a peach 6,000 years ago, you might be surprised: the sour, grape-sized lump you’d be holding would hardly resemble the plump, juicy fruit we enjoy today.
Throughout the 12,000 years or so since humans first developed agriculture, the foods we eat have undergone drastic transformations. Farmers have found ways to select for different traits when breeding plants, turning out generations of larger, sweeter, and juicier crops.
Australian chemistry teacher James Kennedy got interested in the topic and started doing some research. His findings inspired him to put together a series of infographics explaining how some of our most beloved snacks have changed over the centuries. With Kennedy’s permission we’ve posted three here: Peach, watermelon, and corn.
First up is the peach:
Native to China, the original peach was only a fraction of the size we’re used to today and tasted “like a lentil,” Kennedy writes.
“After 6000 years of artificial selection, the resulting peach was 16 times larger, 27% juicier and 4% sweeter than its wild cousin, and had massive increases in nutrients essential for human survival as well.”
Next, the watermelon:
Kennedy writes, “I set out to find the least natural fruit in existence, and decided it was probably the modern watermelon.In 5,000 years, the watermelon has expanded from its original six varieties to a staggering 1,200 different kinds. Modern watermelons are available in a handful of different colours and shapes, and can be bought conveniently seedless.
“Originally native to a small region of southern Africa, the watermelon is now grown in countries around the world. Modern watermelons are about 100 times heavier than their ancient predecessors and much sweeter.”
Corn was first domesticated in the area we know today as Mexico and Central America. At the time, an ear of corn was only about a tenth as long as the cobs we’re used to today and had just a handful of tough kernels. For the sweet, juicy meal we enjoy today, Kennedy says you can thank the Europeans.
“Around half of this artificial selection happened since the fifteenth century, when European settlers placed new selection pressures on the crop to suit their exotic taste buds,” he writes.
As you can see, we’ve come a long way from the days of our ancestors and the small, unappetizing fruits they munched on.
Click here to check out more of Kennedy’s work at his blog.