Time Article UK
The bright side of drought: Fruits and vegetables are smaller but packed with juicier flavors
By Emily Anne Epstein - PUBLISHED: 09:19 EST, 30 July 2012 | UPDATED: 09:42 EST, 30 July 2012
While drought is often accompanied with images of shriveled fruit, dusty farmers and abandoned tractors, there appears to be one good thing to precipitate from the scenario.Those fruits and vegetables that do survive the scorching weather are often smaller, but also more sweet, more sour or more spicy.
The lack of rainfall in certain regions means that the water content of the cucumbers, peaches and melons is lower, allowing the natural sugars and flavors to come out stronger in every bite.
Delish: Those fruits and vegetables that do survive the scorching weather are often smaller, but also more sweet, more sour or more spicy.
'If you think of fruits and vegetables as a water balloon, the more water they have in them, the more dilute the flavor compound,' said Irwin Goldman, a horticulture professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to the MailOnline.
'Most plants that have high moisture content will now have sharper flavors, like peppers and tomatoes,' he said to TIME. Mr Goldman says that means this season's cucumbers, tomatoes, melons, peaches and grapes will have a more powerful taste. Vineyards may also produce different flavors of wines. On the other side, vegetables like beets, onions and garlic will taste sharper because they are designed to produce higher levels of alkaloids while stressed.
Alkaloids are the chemical compound in certain crops that trigger the bitter taste buds to react. The changing flavors of common produce can affect how restaurant chefs craft their menus, careful not to overpower palates not accustomed to higher levels of seasoning. 'I think consumers will be able to tell and I think chefs will be able to tell,' Mr Goldman said. Supermarkets should already begin stocking the drought yields now and will continue to until October's first frost.
Customers might want to look to Colorado crops, where the drought is precipitating smaller yields, but sweeter tastes.
'Our melons and watermelons are very sweet, but it comes at the price of smaller crop yields and smaller fruit sizes overall,' Michael Bartolo, senior research scientist and crop specialist at Colorado State University, said to TIME.
'These fruits are just trying to survive.'
He said that because the melons are under stress, they are juicing up their sugar and sucrose accumulation.
The peaches, cherries and grapes of High Country Orchards in Palisade, Colorado, are doing similarly well. 'Due to the heat, our peaches not only ripened 10 days to two weeks early, but they are extra sweet,' said owner and manager Theresa High to TIME. The drought has caused less water, but also more sun exposure and heat, causing the crop cycle to speed up.
She said that her peaches are a bit smaller than previous years, however, because peaches only grow when nighttime temperatures fall below 65 degrees. Without an abundance of cool summer nights, the peaches have been dwarfed. 'We’ve had a lot of really warm summer nights where temperatures have not gone below 70,' says Mrs High. 'That’s why you may see some peaches are not as large as previous crops.'
Mrs High said her crops this season have definitely been 'special.'
'If there’s a bright side to the world’s weather conditions, this is it. Everyone is after the perfect peach and I think they found it this year. It is certainly going to help our industry for years to come,' she said.
TIME magazine US Drought: How the Heat Intensifies Fruit and Vegetable Flavors