Next time you bite into a slice of watermelon or a cob of corn, consider this: These familiar fruits and veggies didn’t always look and taste this way.
Genetically modified foods, or GMOs, inspire strong reactions nowadays, but humans have been tweaking the genetics of our favourite produce for millennia.
From bananas to eggplant, here are some of the foods that looked totally different before humans first started growing them for food.
This 17th-century painting by Giovanni Stanchi depicts a watermelon that looks strikingly different from modern melons, as Vox points out. A cross-section of the one in the painting, which was made between 1645 and 1672, appears to have swirly shapes embedded in six triangular pie-shaped pieces.
Over time, humans have bred watermelons to have a red, fleshy interior -- which is actually the placenta -- like the ones seen here. (Some people think the watermelon in Stanchi's painting may just be unripe or unwatered, but the black seeds in the painting suggest it was, in fact, ripe).
The first bananas may have been cultivated at least 7,000 years ago (and possibly as early as 10,000 years ago) in what is now Papua New Guinea. They were also grown in Southeast Asia. Modern bananas came from two wild varieties, Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana, which had large, hard seeds, like the ones in this photo.
Throughout their history, eggplants have come in a wide array of shapes and colours, such as white, azure, purple, and yellow (like those shown here). Some of the earliest eggplants were cultivated in China. Primitive versions used to have spines on the place where the plant's stem connects to the flowers.
Farmers domesticated these thin white roots, which had a strong flavour and annual biennial flower, into these large, tasty orange roots that are a winter annual crop.
Perhaps the most iconic example of selective breeding is North American sweetcorn, which was bred from the barely edible teosinte plant. Natural corn, shown here, was first domesticated in 7,000 B.C., and was dry like a raw potato, according to this infographic by chemistry teacher James Kennedy.
Peaches used to be small, cherry-like fruits with very little flesh. They were first domesticated around 4,000 B.C. by the ancient Chinese, and tasted earthy and slightly salty, 'like a lentil,' according to Kennedy.
But after thousands of years of farmers selectively breeding them, peaches are now 16 times larger, 27% juicier, and 4% sweeter.
So, next time someone tells you we shouldn't be eating genetically modified food, you can tell them that we already are.
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