Fruit vs. Modern, Cultivated Fruit: A Summary Comparison
Copyright April 1997 by Thomas E. Billings
This table provides a partial answer to the question, "how natural is
modern, cultivated fruit?", by comparing it to wild/natural fruit.
WILD/NATURAL FRUIT MODERN, CULTIVATED FRUIT
A. Plant Breeding and Propagation
Evolutionary varietal selection Human-directed varietal selection for
driven by species survival taste (high sugar content: market
acceptance) and production factors such
as ability to withstand shipping
Usually non-hybrid; on Artificial hybrids common; genetic eng.
occasion - natural hybrid is latest fashion
Propagation usually by seeds Vegetative propagation, usually
(not nec. true to seed), or artificial: grafting, budding, air-layer,
natural vegetative prop - root cloning
divisions/slips [banana, pineapple]
Grows on its own roots Usually grafted to an alternate rootstock
B. Plant Culture
Grown in natural "permaculture" Mass-produced in orchards, a type of
Generally watered by rainfall only, Often grown on irrigated land (desert
according to natural seasonal cycle areas like California), or drained
swamp land (e.g., Florida)
Grows within specific climactic May be grown in greenhouse, or artificial
zone, per natural adaptation/habitat plant breeding techniques may be used to
extend plant climate tolerance range
(i.e., increase cold/heat resistance)
Plants grow to full size, subject to Plants may be artificially dwarfed for
local conditions ease in picking & other conveniences
Plants are pollinated by natural Pollination services which use the
means - native insects, wind, honeybee (not native to North America)
birds, bats. are often used. Some fruits are hand-
pollinated (cherimoya), while Smyrna
type figs are pollinated by Caprifig
wasps, deliberately raised for that use.
Seedless watermelons are a hybrid and
require cross-pollination by other
varieties of watermelon.
Plants bloom and fruit according to Blooming and fruiting may be induced
natural conditions and seasons. Some or controlled by chemical or physical
fruits are biennial - heavy crop one means, including partial girdling of
year, light crop the next large branches. Some growers go to great
lengths (harming the plants) to force
a biennial fruit to bear heavily each
No chemical fertilizers May receive chemical fertilizers
No pesticides, fungicides or other May receive applications of pesticides,
poisons applied fungicides, etc. - even if so-called
C. Fruit Characteristics/Quality
Small, high in fiber, often sour, Large, low in fiber, usually very sweet
bitter, or even astringent; rarely with a very high sugar level
sweet; usually low sugar level
Typically, large seeds with small Typically, small or no seeds, large
amount of fruit flesh. amount of fruit flesh. Seedless fruits,
in a species that normally reproduces by
seeds, are a short-lived anomaly - they
are biologically sterile!
D. Harvest, Postharvest Processing, and Shipping
Falls to ground or picked when Usually picked unripe or before mature
ripe or mature green. green stage. Ripe/mature green fruit will
not withstand the rigors of shipping.
Chemicals may be used to promote fruit
drop, esp. if mechanically harvested.
Never fumigated May be fumigated to induce ripening, to
kill fruit fly larvae, or to prevent
postharvest fungus growth
Not treated with hot water, no cold May be treated with hot water to kill
treatment fruit fly larvae or fungus, cold
treatments possible - same reasons.
Not refrigerated, not shipped May be refrigerated for weeks or even
months (cold storage apples, controlled
atmosphere storage), usually shipped long
distances - shipping and refrigeration
cost fossil fuel and create pollution.
Never waxed, colored, or treated May be waxed, colored, treated with
with preservative films preservative films
E. Plant Survival and Reproduction
By definition, survives and Most cultivated fruit strains can survive
reproduces in real nature - only under human protection. Cultivated
the wild (survival of the fruit generally cannot survive/reproduce
fittest). in real nature - the wild. This suggests
that cultivated fruit is biologically
"weaker" than wild, natural fruit.
F. Availability to Consumer
First you find the plant, then you Easily and readily available at
harvest it. Picking wild fruit may supermarkets, produce markets, and
necessitate dealing with any of the even at convenience stores. Little effort
following: sharp thorns, caustic is required to obtain.
plant sap, poisonous plants, stinging
and/or biting insects, snakes, skunks
and other animals. Considerable
effort usually required to obtain.
Wild fruit is sometimes sold at
markets in tropical countries.
1. The preceding is a generalization/summary, and is subject to the constraints
thereof: many points would benefit from additional explanation.
2. Vegetables and grains are also subjected to some of the un-natural practices
listed above. However, fruits are generally subjected to far more of the above
practices than are grains or vegetables.
3. Referring to wild fruit as natural is an indirect reference to the most
intellectually honest definition of the word natural: what exists or happens
in nature, without the assistance of, or intervention by, humans.
4. Although modern fruit is clearly the "least natural" of common plant foods,
one should not fear or hate it. Simply understand that it is over-rated as a
food, and eat less/eat in moderation.