Feb. 4, 2007 -- If you've paid attention to what you buy at the grocery store, you may have noticed that fruit has changed.
Where once there were dependable McIntosh apples, red plums, and yellow peaches, now the fruit displays are arranged with such exotics as the Gala Apple, Pinto Peach, Pluot and Nectaplum.
At Whole Foods in Los Angeles, fruit buyer Jeff Biddle says, "We have a Dapple Dandy Pluot, We have a Cherokee Purple Tomato. We have a Mango Nectarine."
A peach is no longer just a peach. Much of the fruit today, like their strange names, (see pluot, by clicking here) is designed or outright invented. Hybrid fruit in the United States alone is a $100 million business.
These new fruits are genetic crosses of different fruits, and many of them are the invention of Zaiger's Genetics and the company's founder, Floyd Zaiger, in Modesto, Calif. They created the Aprium, a hybrid of apricot and plum, the Nectaplum, nectarine and plum, and the Pluot, a blend of plum and apricot.
Zaiger's has patented more than 200 new fruits (click here to see them). Floyd Zaiger is careful to point out that these new fruits are the product of cross-breeding, not genetic engineering.
They cross pollen of one fruit with the flower of another, grow fruit, collect seed, and grow a tree from the seed. Repeating the process, they can determine skin, color, texture and flavor. Some of these varieties take 10 or 20 years to develop into something that looks good, has the right consistency, ships to market without damage and meets the ever-changing public taste and farming conditions.
"A lot of the conditions, the climatic conditions, are changing throughout the world as we have global warming," Zaiger says. "Varieties have to me more adaptable."
They also have to be adaptable to the public's desires. David Karp, the produce correspondent for Gourmet magazine who goes to farmers' markets dressed as if he's on safari looking for new species, says the public wants new sensations. Karp says, "It used to be you would see maybe three or four varieties of apples in the market place, now you'll see 20. "They're incredibly creative with the crosses they're making," Karp says. "Cherry with plum! To me that's like crossing a moose and an aardvark."
It leaves some people hungering for the fruit they remember as a child.
"Just a simple apricot: It's fine with me," said Aria Alpert at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market.
But what she doesn't know is that now even that simple apricot is no longer the apricot once found in nature. It is now an apricot that's been carefully bred to be … a simple apricot.