Reasons to sell ugly fruit

The Lempert Report
June 14, 2016

They may actually taste better and offer better nutrition.

Retailers across the globe have started selling ugly produce, the ones that aren’t perfectly shapped, or have blemishes as a way to reduce food waste. But now there are two more reasons. These ugly fruits and vegetables may actually taste better and offer better nutrition.

As an experiment, Eliza Greenman, an orchardist who custom grafts and grows pesticide-free hard cider apples in Hamilton, VA, tested scabbed and unscabbed Parma apples, a high-sugar variety native to southwestern Virginia, and found the scarred apples had a 2 to 5 percent higher sugar content than unmarred apples from the same tree, according to NPR. More sugar means a higher alcohol content once fermented, producing a tastier hard cider. 

She loves these ugly apples for another reason she also says they may be more nutritious and have a higher antioxidant content. Her felling is that stress can help create a super fruit. 

A 2014 review of 343 studies found that organic produce had lower pesticide residue and a 20 to 40 percent higher antioxidant content than conventional produce. Those antioxidants include compounds such as flavonoids, phenolic acids, anthocyanins and carotenoids, all produced by plants as defense mechanisms when they are stressed by pests. The study authors suggested that organic crops may be subject to more stress because they may receive fewer pesticides, in lower doses, and with less potent killing effects. 

The another study of both conventional and organic apple varieties found higher antioxidant phenols and fruit acids in organic apples.

Greenman's ideal apple is a truly wild apple, one left to its own defenses in nature — with the cosmetic imperfections to prove it.  

Her insights intrigues microbiologist Martin L. Pall, professor emeritus at Washington State University. Pall told NPR  that our own innate, potent protective mechanisms can be activated by compounds in fruits and vegetables. In fact, he suggests in a recent research paper, those antioxidants may serve as mild stressors that kick our repair mechanisms into high gear. They activate a molecule in our cells known as Nrf2, which itself can trigger the activity of over 500 genes, most of which have cell-protective functions. 

So, backyard organic gardeners, rejoice: Your imperfect produce may be more perfect than you thought. Next time you hesitate over a flawed fruit, remember that it may be a hardy survivor bearing hidden nutritive gifts.