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"...endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."
August 23, 2010 6:36 PM   Subscribe

Our minds boggle at how the wolf could become the chihuahua, the Saint Bernard, the poodle and the Komondor. Artificial selection was likewise responsible for transforming the humble wild mustard plant Brassica oleracea into cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and the breathtaking fractal Romanesco, all in the span of a few centuries.

Even without any outward signs of common ancestry, nomenclature gives us a clue:

-kale
-cauliflower
-collard greens
-kohlrabi
-coleslaw

The only ones to lose out are the supertasters: the sensory mutants among us for whom the cruciferous bounty is a bitter pill.

The genome, and everything else you would ever want to know, at brassica.info
posted by overeducated_alligator (54 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks for that. I never noticed the nomenclature before, and I've been trying to get my kids interested in brassica for some time.
posted by sneebler at 6:40 PM on August 23, 2010


I knew all of these were related, but didn't know it was a mustard plant that started it all. How could so much evil come from such a heavenly source?
posted by DU at 6:50 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


How to make anyone enjoy eating kale:

Take one bunch kale. Remove stems and feed to your dog (they love it!). Tear leaves into several pieces. Toss with a little bit of olive oil and salt. Spread out on a tray and bake for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees. Commence with the om nom nom.
posted by phunniemee at 6:50 PM on August 23, 2010 [10 favorites]


phunniemee, I was just about to post the very same thing! That is an excellent way to accidentally eat an entire bunch of kale in one sitting.

Garlic salt is a tasty variation.
posted by bewilderbeast at 6:54 PM on August 23, 2010


I was astounded when I found out just how many things are brassicas, and how many are the same species. Had I been able to track down a solid site, I was totally going to post an FPP on them.

Apparently the evolution of the different Brassica species forms a triangle.
posted by parudox at 7:03 PM on August 23, 2010


I was so hoping that fresh Brussels sprouts would be in abundance at the farmer's market this weekend... can't wait for those huge, weird, knobby cut spires to show up. I've been very surprised in adulthood to discover that I LOVE roasted Brussels sprouts, so surprisingly sweet and delicious.
posted by Auden at 7:04 PM on August 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Neat!

Also: pears, apples, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, peaches, plums, apricots and many other fruit are members of the rose family (Rosaceae).
posted by maudlin at 7:05 PM on August 23, 2010


Regarding the Komondor, I've looked at the cover of Beck's Odelay hundreds of times over almost fifteen years, and my brain was so utterly confused by what was going over the hurdle that it refused to parse it. I understood the cover as a piece of abstract art. You have opened my eyes!
posted by edw at 7:07 PM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Confused: at first I thought the Komondor was a sort of brassica that had been thrown over a stick, because I read out of order and sometimes don't parse things correctly.
posted by oonh at 7:09 PM on August 23, 2010


From Street Carnage: AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO THINKS IT’S FUCKED UP WHAT WE DID TO DOGS?
posted by defenestration at 7:09 PM on August 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


I don't get how people can look at selective breeding, which is everywhere, and not see that natural selection would have to happen. A lot of people really don't want to believe in evolution, I guess.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:12 PM on August 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Canola (aka rapeseed) = Brassica napus? Now that I didn't know.
posted by Auden at 7:16 PM on August 23, 2010


Don't forget the flower sprout, aka Petit Posy, a new cross between kale and Brussels sprouts.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:49 PM on August 23, 2010


I thought dogs and wolves came from a shared ancestor.
posted by oddman at 7:51 PM on August 23, 2010


Don't forget the flower sprout, aka Petit Posy, a new cross between kale and Brussels sprouts.

WHOA. Stop the train: has anyone here tasted this? Has anyone GROWN this? Please tell me everything you know. I have a new plot of land that's about to be prepared for croppin', and kale and Brux sprouts are my two most favorite things.
posted by padraigin at 7:54 PM on August 23, 2010


It also gave us one of the best case names in the world: In re Cruciferous Sprout Litigation.
posted by jedicus at 7:55 PM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Any gardener who has met the harmless looking little white cabbage moth and its evil hellspawn baby the cabbage worm knows exactly what plants are crucifers, I tell you what. Thank god for bT.

I'm totally planting some of that fractal broccoli next year.
posted by rusty at 7:59 PM on August 23, 2010


This is one the arguments I make against those who protest genetically modified food: "native" corn is roughly the size of your thumb, and about as nutritious. We've been genetically modifying plants and animals for centuries. Modifying the genome in a lab means not having to wait for decades to reap the benefits.

(And yes, I acknowledge that there are greater risks from down the fast-forward button of evolution via direct manipulation of the genome - although I would argue that diminishing agricultural diversity poses a far greater risk long term - and we're doing things in the lab that would never occur in nature, but neither of those aspects make GMO food bad in and of itself.)
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 8:04 PM on August 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Translating brassica names can sometimes be impossible, ("no.. no.. please not another 'flowering vegetable'...") but I've often found Sorting Brassica names useful.
posted by Ahab at 8:19 PM on August 23, 2010


[derail] I used to support GMOs for the reasons Bora listed. I don't anymore - not because of the dangers of GMOs, but because of the dangers of corporate greed and malfeasance. That's a topic for another thread.[/derail]

Kale chips are awesome! A vegan friend of mine turned me onto them, seasoned with nutritional yeast, so they were like super light cheese chips. They'd go well with a nice cold beer.
posted by Xoebe at 8:51 PM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Harumph. Everyone knows broccoli was skilfully bred and created by Albert R Broccoli's predecessors, that's how they made their fortune and he spent the subsequent wealth on the James Bond films.

At least that's what a reliable friend told me as a student and whom I believed for nigh on ten years until I stated it as fact at a dinner party--to my humiliation.
posted by NailsTheCat at 9:00 PM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Rick Rodgers' Brussels Sprouts Chiffonade with Pancetta recipe has helped me convert even the most stalwart anti-sproutist.
posted by Graygorey at 9:08 PM on August 23, 2010


> Modifying the genome in a lab means not having to wait for decades to reap the benefits.


That's wholly different from selective breeding. But, that's another discussion anyway. Brassica are awesome.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:24 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Romanesco is the best veg ever, so far; can't WAIT to try that ruffle sprout stuff. Tasty AND weird makes me very happy. Is that wrong?
posted by cookie-k at 9:48 PM on August 23, 2010


> Tasty AND weird makes me very happy. Is that wrong?

No, it's very right. Just looking at romanesco makes me happy in a simple existential way that is only remotely gustatory. It's just a living proof of intrinsic order in the universe.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:52 PM on August 23, 2010


Those of you who live in hot climates (or want some coles during the summer) try collard greens, they are biennial and don't bolt. While they need many hours of cooking (we use a crock pot), this also means that they won't get accidentally over-cooked. I've got such a huge crop, I'm thinking about try to use them for sauerkraut or kim-chi.
For summer mustard, I've had good luck with Southern Giant. The great thing about mustard is that you can use it for different things at different points of its lifecycle: young in salads, mature as a boiled green or stir-fry, over-mature as a flavoring (it gets hotter with the weather, I recently minced up some to top a salmon on the grill), the young green seed pods in salads, the older seed pods cooked and finally, the seeds themselves as a spice (or popped like minuscule popcorn).

My first every fpp was on a (probable) Komodor...
posted by 445supermag at 9:59 PM on August 23, 2010


I thought dogs and wolves came from a shared ancestor.

These days, dogs are classified as a subspecies of wolf (Canis lupus familiaris). link.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 10:00 PM on August 23, 2010


Some years ago, I heard that eating lots of these various kohl (cole) vegies was a good measure against colon cancer. Curiously, they also happen to be my favorite vegetables. Except the last time I ate romanesco, it disagreed with me.
posted by Goofyy at 10:30 PM on August 23, 2010


The only ones to lose out are the supertasters: the sensory mutants among us for whom the cruciferous bounty is a bitter pill.

....And those of us who have, er, digestive intolerance for some members of genus brassica.

I actually liked broccoli as a kid. And about ten years ago, could no longer eat it because I got painful stomach cramps (as well as....well, let's just say "another symptom that made it really unpleasant to be in a room with me"). Then brussels sprouts were out, then cauliflower. This year turnips joined the "no-eat" list. I do okay with kale, collards, and other leafy species, though, but I'm wondering if it's only a matter of time...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:16 AM on August 24, 2010


Auugh, hit post too early.

The wide variety of brassica is both a blessing and a curse -- the up side is that even if one thing doesn't agree with you, something else may, so you don't lose out nutritionally. But the bad side is, it's really easy to accidentally eat something and then an hour later, be curled up and whimpering, because how the hell were you supposed to know that this leafy vegetable was related to that woody one?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:19 AM on August 24, 2010


phunniemee's kale recipe sounds good, but personally I like to pwn the kale with my juicer.
posted by MillMan at 12:22 AM on August 24, 2010


AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO THINKS IT’S FUCKED UP WHAT WE DID TO DOGS?

I'm sure these ducks agree.
posted by homunculus at 12:32 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


These days people are thinking small dogs originated independently in the Middle East from the gray wolf:

A genetic study has found that small domestic dogs probably originated in the Middle East more than 12,000 years ago.
posted by jamjam at 12:38 AM on August 24, 2010


There's something funny going on with the whole supertaster business, too.

The chemical supertasters can taste is a thiouracil. Thiouracils are potent thyroid blockers, often used in feedlots as a finishing agent to fatten cattle just before they're slaughtered.

Not too surprising supertasters are a little skinnier, eh?
posted by jamjam at 1:01 AM on August 24, 2010


These days people are thinking small dogs originated independently in the Middle East from the gray wolf:

A genetic study has found that small domestic dogs probably originated in the Middle East more than 12,000 years ago.
posted by jamjam at 8:38 AM on August 24 [+] [!]


The article doesn't say anything about them originating independently.
posted by Catfry at 2:14 AM on August 24, 2010


What's that you say about dogs and ducks?
posted by kcds at 4:25 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I acknowledge that there are greater risks from down the fast-forward button of evolution via direct manipulation of the genome

Genetic engineering is not just a "fast-forward button" unless you think that tobacco was going to evolve jellyfish genes some time in the future.
posted by DU at 5:03 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


While they need many hours of cooking

Do they? We've gotten collard greens twice in our farm share this summer and just did a quick saute each time - they turned out great.

It may have helped that I cooked them in bacon.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:31 AM on August 24, 2010


And not every "super" taster tastes the chemical in each of these varieties, nor do only super tasters taste it.

People will often have a preference, tolerating the taste in, say, cabbage but not in brussel sprouts.

And I'm no super taster, but I can't stand broccoli. I actually like sprouts.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:28 AM on August 24, 2010


Cooking collard greens for hours? Never! We also sauté them lightly, so they don't go too limp and bitter. They are more robust than spinach, but you don't want to overdo them.

They are also good raw in sandwiches as a stronger flavoured alternative to lettuce.
posted by jb at 8:11 AM on August 24, 2010


Not too surprising supertasters are a little skinnier, eh?
posted by jamjam at 4:01 AM on August 24 [+] [!]


what? Not the ones I know. You can eat your weight in mac & cheese too, you know.
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:34 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't get how people can look at selective breeding, which is everywhere, and not see that natural selection would have to happen. A lot of people really don't want to believe in evolution, I guess.


What selective breeding shows is the power of the genus to modify itself, not to produce new genera. All the variants of Brassica remain within the genus, as do all the variants of Canis. The theory of evolution holds that genera produce other genera, an assertion that is not validated by selective breeding. If we assume instead that each genus arises independently from the others, then we are in a better position to marvel at their amazing self-transformative powers, without having to posit any kind of occult power that allows one to produce another.
posted by No Robots at 8:53 AM on August 24, 2010


"native" corn is roughly the size of your thumb, and about as nutritious.

Wait, I totally got my bag of baked thumbs in the health food section. Have I been lied to?
posted by FatherDagon at 9:48 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is a fascinating topic, but the post's linked site is very technical. Is there a poster / chart / diagram that shows the relationship between all these plants? That would make me very happy.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:49 AM on August 24, 2010


My botany professor introduced this to us when we were learning about the various parts of plants. By selecting for different parts of the plant (similar to how one selectively breeds roses with extra petals), you can select for cabbages (suppress the terminal bud), brussel sprouts (lateral bud), kohlrabi (stem), kale and collards (leaf blade), turnip (root), etc. You really can eat the whole plant.

And jeffamaphone: I've also been looking for a diagram!
posted by artifarce at 10:20 AM on August 24, 2010


Personally I think the best thing to do with greens is colcannon. Basically you saute the greens until tender, then mix 'em up with a big ol' bowl of garlic mashed potatoes. SO GREAT.

I tried kale chips once, but I didn't care for the slightly tacky, "sheets of nori" texture. I like to give it a nice fine shred, saute it until tender, then tuck it into homemade mac and cheese.

And if you're still holding onto a childhood dislike of brussel sprouts, try getting some fresh ones and roasting them with salt and olive oil for half an hour or so at 350 degrees. Or cut them in half and cook them face-down in a pan on the stovetop until brown and crispy. The long slow cooking helps to draw out the bitterness.
posted by ErikaB at 11:15 AM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


These days people are thinking small dogs originated independently in the Middle East from the gray wolf:

A genetic study has found that small domestic dogs probably originated in the Middle East more than 12,000 years ago.
posted by jamjam at 8:38 AM on August 24 [+] [!]

The article doesn't say anything about them originating independently.
posted by Catfry


Perhaps I took more for granted than I ought to've; by independently I meant independently of the domestication of the Northern Chinese steppe wolf which has previously been considered to be the origin of all dogs.

But thinking about your objection has raised a doubt in my mind. So far I can't point to anything which absolutely rules out the possibility that small dogs arose from a Middle Eastern gray wolf contribution to a previously existing stock of domesticated dogs which did originate on the steppes.
posted by jamjam at 12:15 PM on August 24, 2010


All is well then. My misguided objection was to if you asserted the article said they developed independently of human interference.
posted by Catfry at 1:02 PM on August 24, 2010


Not misguided at all. I clearly didn't say enough for anyone other than me to know what I might have been talking about, if anything.

And so in the wake of that revelation:

Not too surprising supertasters are a little skinnier, eh?
posted by jamjam at 4:01 AM on August 24 [+] [!]

what? Not the ones I know. You can eat your weight in mac & cheese too, you know.
posted by toodleydoodley


A very interesting observation, toodleydoodley, and doodley noted, but I was referring to a sentence in one of the links in the FPP:

Supertasters tend to find highly fatty and sugary foods less palatable than non-tasters. As a result, supertasters tend to weigh less.
posted by jamjam at 1:50 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


My favorite fact about mustard:

Mustard has always been important in Europe because it grows locally and is therefore the cheapest of spices. Medieval European courts often employed a mustardarius, an official who supervised the growing and preparation of mustard.

From the Oxford Companion to Food.
posted by jamjam at 2:19 PM on August 24, 2010


Supertasters tend to find highly fatty and sugary foods less palatable than non-tasters. As a result, supertasters tend to weigh less.
posted by jamjam at 4:50 PM on August 24 [1 favorite -] Favorite added! [!]


yes, and:

Supertasters experience taste with far greater intensity the average person. About 25 percent of Americans are supertasters, a group with an unusually high number of taste buds. If you love food more than most, you may have inherited supertaster genes. [source]

Do You Hate Veggies?
Evidence suggests that supertasters are more sensitive to bitter tastes and fattiness in food, and often show lower acceptance of foods that are high in these taste qualities. Tasters tend to dislike strong, bitter foods like raw broccoli, grapefruit juice, coffee and dark chocolate. [source]


Yeah, I got so confused when I read that (in TFA) I sprained my eyes. How do the supports "unusually high number of taste buds," "more sensitive to bitter tastes and fattiness" and "show lower acceptance of foods high in yada yada" square with the conclusion "love food more than most?"

The supertasters of my acquaintance seem to live on mashed potatoes and vanilla pudding and do not tend to weigh less than regular-tasters of my acquaintance who love black coffee, hot curry and raw broccoli.
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:01 PM on August 24, 2010


Wait, what is this post about? It starts out with something about dog breeding but then goes nowhere. Then it mentions a fun fact about genetic vegetable etymology, but none of it seems to be centered around any kind of interesting link. And it inexplicably throws in something about supertasters. Am I missing something?
posted by aesacus at 9:10 PM on August 24, 2010


"I don't get how people can look at selective breeding, which is everywhere, and not see that natural selection would have to happen. A lot of people really don't want to believe in evolution, I guess."

I don't get why so many people think it wouldn't work on people. Eugenics is evil and is morally bad but there is no doubt we could breed better people if we had the determination to stick to the program.

"Medieval European courts often employed a mustardarius, an official who supervised the growing and preparation of mustard."

Yay, new occupation to claim to be to busybodies.
posted by Mitheral at 10:34 PM on August 24, 2010


Yay, new occupation to claim to be to busybodies.

Just what I was thinking.
posted by jamjam at 10:43 PM on August 24, 2010


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