If you walk into any supermarket and check out the apples (or any fruits, for that matter) you’ll see that they’re almost perfectly round and lack any blemishes or bruises. In fact, a person only seeing grocery store apples might think that’s how they all look like – but that’s far from the truth. Many apples have all sorts of imperfections, and according to a new experiment, this might make the fruits even sweeter and more nutritious.
Eliza Greenman is an experienced orchardist and consultant in growing fruits. In her own words, she’s obsessed with growing fruits. But after spending a few years learning how to grow the perfect fruits, she started to question this approach. Why focus so much on growing flawless fruits, when others are just as delicious and nutritious – or even more so?
“I’m absolutely infatuated with the idea of stress in an orchard,” Greenman told NPR. “After learning the management practices that go into producing flawless fruit, I’ve started to question the ethics currently involved in producing the status quo.”
Now, she also custom grafts and grows pesticide-free hard cider apples in Hamilton, Virginia. She believed that these unwanted apples may actually be sweeter than other, especially due to the stress.
She conducted an experiment to test her theory. This isn’t a peer-reviewed study, just an unofficial experiment. But what she found is definitely worth thinking about. Focusing on the Parma apples, she reports that scarred apples had a 2 to 5 percent higher sugar content than unmarred apples from the same tree. This is a significant difference, and more sugar makes for stronger, tastier cider. But this isn’t where the extra nutrition stops.
Wear your scars like medals
Fruit scars are the result of stress. Whether it comes from fighting heat, bugs, or fungus, the scars on an apple show that the fruit fought a battle – and won. That stress forces forces apples to produce antioxidants such as flavonoids, phenolic acids, anthocyanins and carotenoids. These act as the apple’s natural defense systems – and these compounds have a high nutritional value.
The science seems to back this idea up. In 2014, a review of 343 studies found that organic produce had a 20 to 40 percent higher antioxidant content than conventional produce. The same thing was reported a few years earlier by another study which found higher antioxidant phenols and fruit acids in organic apples. Organic apples are often scarred, and there does seem to be a correlation between the two – scars on one hand, and antioxidants on the other. But this isn’t necessarily so. Several factors also affect antioxidant content, including the soil type and mineral distribution. Until a more thorough study isn’t conducted, all we can do is speculate.
But Greenman’s experiments are not without merit. For her (and many other growers), the signs are there. Scarred apples are definitely sweeter, and there’s a good chance they’re even more nutritious — and they shouldn’t be kept out of grocery stores. In fact, several companies and countries are taking heed and selling “ugly” fruits and veggies. Imperfect produce is starting to claim its rightful place on the shelves – and I can only hope it’s here to stay. About a third of the world’s food is wasted, much of that because of the way it looks. In America, 1 in 5 fruits and vegetables grown don’t fit grocery stores’ strict cosmetic standards and are thrown away.
Andrei's background is in geophysics, and he's been fascinated by it ever since he was a child. Feeling that there is a gap between scientists and the general audience, he started ZME Science -- and the results are what you see today.