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When Did Flavor Fall Out of Favor?

Last week, I bought a bag of carrots at the local supermarket and steamed a few of them for dinner. After dinner, I tossed the rest of the bag onto the compost pile. Carrots are normally one of my favorite veggies, but these had virtually none of the tasty characteristics of garden carrots. They looked the same, but my one-word description of their flavor would have to be "Gack!".

This is just part of a disturbing trend for supermarket produce - the varieties are being selected more for qualities such as appearance, disease resistance, ease of harvest, earliness, shippability, and apparently every other factor except flavor. No wonder so many kids refuse to eat vegetables. (Mine loved anything that I grew - no coaxing needed.)

Everyone pretty much agrees that most supermarket tomatoes are poor imitators of garden tomatoes, but I wonder how many people realize how different, and better, other veggies could taste, too.

In an earlier life, I was in the marketing research business - measuring consumer reaction to new products and product reformulations. One time, a major manufacturer of salad dressings (you would recognize the brand) hired my company to diagnose their gradual loss of market share to competitors. I reviewed their product taste-testing results, which showed that none of the several ingredient changes they had made over the years produced a significant drop off in preference from previous product to new product recipes.

Then, I asked how their latest recipe performed against their old original recipe and was surprised to be told they never measured that. When they did, they were shocked at the near 100% preference for the original formulation. The gradual erosion of flavor from one reformulation to the next was not enough for most people to pick up on, but over time the wonderful flavor of their original product had been substantially lost.

I suspect the same is true for much of the produce we are offered today and most supermarket shoppers would not believe the wealth of good flavors they are missing. An older-variety Nantes-type carrot grown in mineral-rich soil is so different in flavor from the pretty orange things in cello bags that they should not be called the same product. For you home gardeners reading this, try the Nelson variety for a revelation in texture and taste.

The increasing popularity of farmer's markets is perfectly understandable to me. I had the pleasure of eating a Fuji apple bought at such a market in Thousand Oaks, California, during a recent visit there. It was nearly all green and not perfectly shaped, but what a wonderful flavor and crispness! The "improved" redder and prettier versions of Fujis in stores are not nearly as tasty, and I'm guessing they are headed in the same sad direction as the Red Delicious variety (which, believe it or not, used to be actually delicious).

Well, that's my rant for today. Should it be that hard to buy a decent tasting carrot? They don't even have the fragile-shipping excuse of tomatoes.

Look at our MycoMinerals web site for a good product to blend into garden soil or flower beds before planting next spring - the volcanic minerals with mycorrhizal fungi spores will make good organic soils perform even better - and also add wonderful flavors to older "unimproved" vegetable varieties!

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