I spent Sunday morning laying bricks to replace the base of my greenhouse - which previously sat on a rotting wooden base. Then I lifted some Gladiator Parsnips and picked the most wonderful Extra Early Rudolph Sprouting Broccoli. Both went down really well, with a bit of Norfolk farm-reared chicken. But why were the parsnips so outstandingly good? Of course, they'd been in the garden all winter - frosted - but now leaves were sprouting and the only thing you could expect was woody cores developing. But the flavour of this roasted parsnip was amazing - powerful tangy flavours and a real sweetness too.
Maybe the Journal of HortScience has the answer as Don Davis' researches confirm.
Apparently, according to Don, and I can't disagree with him, produce generally tastes worse than in our grandparents' days. It also contains fewer nutrients. Davis claims the average vegetable found in today's supermarket is anywhere from 5% to 40% lower in minerals (including magnesium, iron, calcium and zinc) than those harvested just 50 years ago. All rather important for a healthy 5-a-day diet I would say.
The Dilution Effect
Today's vegetables might be larger, but if you think that means they contain more nutrients, you'd be wrong. Davis writes that jumbo-sized veg contains more dry matter, which dilutes mineral concentrations. In other words, when it comes to growing food, less is more, or for you and me, more is less. Scientific studies since 1981 evidently confirm this finding more than 180 times, so the effect should be regarded as common knowledge.
Don Davis calls all of this ‘genetic dilution'. Selective breeding to increase crop yields has led to declines in proteins, amino acids and up to six minerals, in one study of commercial broccoli. Because nearly 90% of dry matter is carbohydrates, when breeders select for high yields, they are, in effect, selecting mostly for high carbohydrate levels with no guarantee that dozens of other nutrients and thousands of phytochemicals will all increase in proportion to yield.
Industrialisation of Agriculture
Thanks to increased use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, crops from super new veg varieties are harvested faster than ever. But quick, early harvests also means less time to absorb nutrients from synthesis and the soil. Minerals like potassium (the "K" in N-P-K fertilisers) can interfere with a plant's ability to take up nutrients. Monoculture farming has also led to soil-mineral depletion, affecting nutrient contents of crops.
What should you do? Supplement nutrient short supermarket veg with supermarket vitamins and minerals or grab the home grown mantle? When in doubt, grow your own fruit and vegetables, if you can't do that, at least buy from farmers' markets, from people who take good care of their soil and genuinely care about the crops they grow.