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Vegetables 2.0: Five real-world examples of crossbred produce

With advances in genetic research, new fruits and vegetables bound for supermarkets are tastier, healthier - and more attractive

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With advances in genetic research, new fruits and vegetables bound for supermarkets are tastier, healthier — and more attractive. In recent months, major agriculture companies have unveiled several new varieties, such as red celery and sweet, tear-free onions. Although they possess certain qualities of heirloom breeds, they’re specially designed to appeal to consumers. “A main objective here is to bring flavour and flavour experiences to a new level in the produce department, so we’re doing this across the board—tomatoes, peppers, melons,” says David Stark, Monsanto’s vice-president of consumer benefits. They’re not the products of genetic modification. However, the improved ability to identify and track genome traits has made traditional cross-breeding faster and more predictable than ever before, Mr. Stark says. Here, we examine examples of that new generation of cross-breeding:

GLEN BERGER/glen berger The Globe and Mail

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Red Celery: What is it? A new breed of celery developed by Florida-based Duda Farm Fresh Foods Why make it? “For a category that’s relatively flat, how do you bring excitement to the produce section? How do you get consumers to try different things? Certainly colour is one way to do it,” says Dan Duda, president and chief operating officer. How was it created? Cross-pollinating existing commercial varieties with a vibrant red, but bitter, heritage celery root from Eastern Europe. How does it taste? Like regular green celery When will it be on the market? Test marketing begins Dec. 1 in the U.S. and eastern Canada.

Lisa Keenan 2009/Lisa Keenan_2009

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EverMild Sweet Onion: What is it? A low-pungency, yellow onion, developed by Monsanto, that is touted as triggering “fewer tears.” Why make it? Alternative to U.S.-grown summertime Vidalia, and hardier than the thin-skinned, expensive-to-ship sweet varieties imported from South America and Central America. EverMild is in season between October and March. “It has a stronger structure to it, so it stores really well and lasts long.”says David Stark, vice-president of consumer benefits at Monsanto. How was it created? Breeding a mix of varieties. How does it taste? Mild, with no harsh after-taste, Mr. Stark says. When will it be on the market? The EverMild is available in certain areas in the U.S. this fall. Mr. Stark anticipates it will be introduced to Canada by next season.

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Crisphead Romaine Cross Lettuce: What is it? A hybrid of romaine and iceberg lettuce, developed by Monsanto Why make it? To create a lettuce that has the popular crunch and taste of iceberg, but with the higher vitamin A and C content of romaine. How was it created? Cross-breeding of romaine and iceberg. How does it taste? “It’s very, very low in bitterness,” Mr. Stark says. When will it be on the market? It’s already offered as a specialty product in the U.S, and may be more widely available in two years.

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Examples of the new generation of cross-breeding: Red brussel sprouts.

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Improved-Nutrition Beneforté Broccoli: What is it? A broccoli introduced by Monsanto that contains up to three times more glucoraphanin, a substance that helps the body reactivate antioxidants, enhancing the ability to tackle free radicals. Why make it? To make a healthier broccoli. How was it created? Breeding commercial broccoli with a wild, Sicilian relative that contains higher levels of glucoraphanin. How does it taste? Like regular, commercial broccoli. When will it be on the market? Expected to be available in the U.S. in 2011.

Patrick Tregenza/Patrick Tregenza Photography

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