nib·ble (nbl)
v. nib·bled, nib·bling, nib·bles
1. To bite at gently and repeatedly.
2. To eat with small, quick bites or in small morsels: nibble a cracker.
3. To wear away or diminish bit by bit: "If you start compromising too early . . . they nibble you to death" (People).

Friday, December 17, 2010

LONDON: market paradise

As intense and unpredictable as it was for me living in London, England, I would do it all again just for the city's wondrous markets. Unlike the markets of my home city - Toronto, Ontario, Canada-  London markets are beautiful, energetic, colorful and always chaotic city spaces to stumble through. Whether you're seeking your next meal or your next great outfit, the city has exactly what you're looking for...where else can you find white-chocolate enrobed walnuts and Guylian chocolates by the pound AND a stunning sari in the same 5 meters?! While I lived in the bustling capital I frequented several outdoor and some indoor markets. They all impressed me, but a few stood out as my favorites to haunt:

foodie paradise. pure and simple.

This small but jam-packed market is located a stone's throw from London Bridge tube station and no matter how insane my thursday and saturday were, I always made it a must stop. Borough Market is set beneath the railway viaducts between the river Thames and Borough High Street in South East London. Its main area is set up throughout a series of zigzagging streets and walkways, and there are two additional self contained markets.
It is a 'food and drink' market, but that description does not do it justice. I used to salivate at the mere thought of one its famous grilled cheese sandwiches -- two thick slices of country bread encasing french raclette and a homemade red onion relish, pressed to perfect slow-melted perfection...
The market has an endless variety of fare on offer, and even more on Saturdays when its additional spaces are crammed with extra vendors purveying everything from stichleton cheese (not to be confused with "stilton cheese", I've only encountered this cheese at Borough market) to 100s of flavored specialty olive oils. The main space has an excellent line up of usual suspects including a wonderful artisan chutney and jam company -ENGLAND PRESERVES- I have still found nothing that compares to their product line here or elsewhere...pear and port chutney made its way into my luggage...
The market is also a standout for its produce (local and organic)-- I swear I have never seen rainbow chard like that..."so beautiful, what does it mean??" springs to mind...
If you get bored by the stalls, there's always the local restaurants and shops surrounding the market to sate you...including the incredibly cute 'jam and bread' cafe - MONMOUTH COFFEE - where with every coffee you are entitled to grab a bench and indulge in some fresh baked bread and homemade jam -- free and unlimited! I DON'T HAVE AN IMAGE FOR THIS CAFE BUT FOUND ONE HERE.
Market Stalls: Monday to Friday, 10am - 4pm and Sundays,
9am - 5pm.
Thursday: Antiques
Busiest day
Spitalfields Market is an urban mecca I discovered towards the end of my stint of living in the UK...had I found it earlier on, I would have been there every Sunday rather than the two times total I was able to visit! :( 

The market is simply exceptional. It dates back to the thirteenth century (!) and is THE place for crafts, art, fashion, furniture, food and much more. The vibe is very bohemian, as are the crafts, clothes and furniture on offer. 

Pretty eclectic stuff and set up. I was particularly blown away by the clothes -- there are several stalls selling beautiful, one of a kind designs...but this is a FOOD BLOG!

The food stalls offer all sorts of artisan products and exceptional produce. What really caught my attention was the British and Asian food for sale. The British food included artisan pot pies, sausages and cheeses. The Asian foods included fresh fish cakes and the heavenly aroma of Okonomiyaki...


Local Sausage Vendor, Spitalfields Market




The market is enormous. There is a main stall area in a huge glass-ceiling space. This building extends to other surrounding stall buildings and then beyond to a series of older windy surrounding streets where more can be bought from vendors...I recall the further down the rabbit hole of streets I ventured, the shadier the products fact several were simply large blankets on the ground covered with miscellaneous trinkets, think garage sales as far as the eye can see...



Candy and Sweets store across the street from the Spitalfields Market Hall

If you venture far enough on a SUNDAY, you'll reach BRICK LANE and the COLUMBIA ROAD FLOWER MARKET where you can gather beauty out of chaos by selecting some 5-quid bundles of stunning flowers...simply BREATHTAKING.
I would make CAMDEN MARKET my home...if it weren't as dirty and dodgy as it is :) 
I remember thinking "this is like kensington market in Toronto, only 3X bigger and 100X more awesome..." Which is exactly why I frequented it whenever I got the chance. Home to funky clothing, great music, the London punks all set up on a Canal, Camden Market is just too cool for words. It sprawls through some major streets, with funky storefronts and random food takeaways (waffle stands etc.). crams itself with endless funky attire for sale in the camden/buck street market and climbs its way over an old bridge where the market really opens up to the huge lock market hall (on the canal) where you can find amazing arts and crafts on three levels, and a huge variety of antiques. You can also find an amazing variety of food stalls in this part of the market and also in an area known as the West Yard. The food is very ethnically diverse and very tasty. 


I particularly enjoyed the Indian and Middle Eastern food. That aside, there is something for EVERYONE.My favorite food
experiences there were an excellent falafel sandwich complete with great pickled turnips and tahini sauce, and an amazing grilled vegetable and goat's cheese quesadilla with a first rate fresh tomato and cilantro salsa, tangy guacamole and good quality sour cream. 

The food stall area is as chaotic as the rest of the market, accented by glowing neon signs. Not in it for a full meal? Not to worry, you can buy some Guylian chocolates by the pound to take away in the West Yard, or simply grab a doughnut from the incedible donut stall outside the lock's main entrance...


I cannot express how much I LOVE this market! 


Wednesday, December 15, 2010


There Will be No DOCtoring Here

Margherita Pizza D.O.P., Pizzeria Libretto, Toronto

Mislead. Bamboozled. This is the average North American who has recently purchased what we have come to regard as “pizza”. Apparently we have been tricked for years into thinking that those chewy slices that we have embraced as a culture are the real deal. But no true pizza welcomes ham, or sausage or even the ever popular pepperoni well no authentic Neapolitan pizza anyway.

Thanks to a panel of prestigious pizza aficionados, and the legal assistance of the European Union, there is real pizza out there -- complete with a definition and convenient stamp of approval.

I’m talking about real Neapolitan pizzas and we can even find them in our very own GTA. Where? Pizzeria Libretto. For years savory circular pies of various style and thickness have passed for “pizzas” but no more! A few short years ago Italians officially took back the snack they shared with the world, horrified by its mutations as it traveled to every corner of the globe. Tandoori chicken pizza? Grilled Pizza? Desert Pizza? Sacrilege! They did what any food loving traditionalists would do in times of crises -- turned to the law.

To claim their cultural relic, Italians, or should I say Neapolitans, created an organization in the mid 1980s devoted to the cultural preservation of the sensational national nibble -- the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana or A.V.P.N. They created a series of rules and guidelines necessary to follow in order to produce the regional specialty. But it was
not until 2004 that the organization joined forces with the Italian Ministry of Agriculture to make a case for certifying authentic pizza at the European Union (E.U.). As a result they are now included in the Unions ongoing effort to officially classify regional foods as definable cultural products. In this process, product names are essentially trademarked resulting in verifiable stamps of authenticity. The classification assures consumers worldwide that what they are purchasing is the real deal. Other food stuffs which have been certified include Champagne, Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, Parmagiano Reggiano etc. In Italy such foods garner the designation D.O.C. (Denominazione di origine controllata). So what does pizza need to be today to be considered authentic? According to the E.U. and A.V.P.N., a true Neapolitan pizza must meet several requirements. The pizzas must not only be assembled in a certain way but must also meet certain measurements; be heated within a certain timeframe at a particular temperature; involve ingredients from specific regions of Italy; involve particular ingredient combinations and preparation methods; and even be cooked in a certain type of oven. There are also only two certifiable types of Neapolitan pizzas: Marinara and Margherita.

Margherita Pizza D.O.P., Pizzeria Libretto, Toronto

Pizza has a history, and its creation was no accident. Naples claims pizza originated there in the 1700s. Many historians argue that the first Pizzeria was 
the Antica Pizzeria Port d’Alba. It served Marinara pizzas pizza topped simply with tomato, garlic, olive oil and oregano. The pizzas take their name from the sailors who ate the dish upon return from long fishing trips. The equally famous Margherita pizza has been linked to Naples and a baker named Raffaele Esposito. Legend has it that Esposito baked three different pizzas for a visit of King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy in 1889. The Queen favored the pizza which displayed the colors of the Italian flag. The red was represented by tomatoes, the white by mozzarella cheese and the green by fresh picked basil leaves. The pizza was dubbed Pizza Margherita in her honor. Think you’re making a margherita tonight with those farmers market tomatoes and basil bunches from your garden? Think again. The integral ingredients in the pizza making guidelines are also specified. They must originate from distinct Italian regions and are also protected cultural products. For instance, not just any mozzarella cheese can be used on these pies, it has to be mozzarella di bufala campana and fior di latte dellappennino meriodionale D.O.P. And those tomatoes -- San Marzano or nothing! 

So what does a humble Toronto pizzeria need to do to become certified? That's
something Max Rimaldi, owner of Pizzeria Libretto, is contending with as I type. His Ossington and Dundas West pizzeria is one of the first Toronto pizzerias in the midst of getting certified by A.V.P.N. In order to attain his certification Max needs to not only practice what A.V.P.N. preaches but pass their inspection an inspection he must also pay for. Though the organization is a labor of love and as such non-profit, members have to pay dues -- membership fees and certification fees. Max needs to fly and accommodate some Italian pizza master judges who will taste, pinch, squeeze, fold and smell his offerings before giving him their seal of approval and no doubt will be expected to clean up the mess after its all said and done. Luckily Max will not have to purchase round trip tickets from Naples for his inspectors. He is going through a board of middlemen, the American chapter of A.V.P.N. known as Verace Pizza Napoletana Americas, or V.P.N. Americas, which will send an inspector from California, specifically the chapters founder Pepe Miele. Max had to do more than make a few phone calls and apply online. He had to send photos: of his pizzas; oven; establishment (tables, customers etc.); dough (before and after rising); dough machine; mise-en-place; etc. – and potentially a lock of hair of his first born child. He is still waiting patiently to arrange his inspection because much like the Italian bureaucracy, the heads of V.P.N. Americas work very slowly. But while he twiddles his thumbs, Max and his partner Rocco Agostino make pizzas according to the certification bodys standards and rules. Pizzeria Libretto even takes its name from the A.V. P.N. pizza charter (the Italian version), specifically from the description of the final product which describes the crust as being easily pliable and foldable into the shape of a little book, or “libretto”. 

Margherita Pizza D.O.P., Pizzeria Libretto, Toronto
Max is a true pizza connoisseur, “I eat pizza every day”. But despite knowing his Margheritas from his Puttanescas, he does not limit his taste buds to what he considers authentic pizza. He is even a fan of other local shops pies (Pizza Gigi and Terroni to name names) but his heart melts for the delicacy of true Neapolitan style pizza a delicacy he has not personally encountered elsewhere in the GTA. The reason? Neapolitan pizza is a very specific thing that requires exactly what the certification board outlines specific ingredients, preparation methods and special equipment. Max idealizes the notion of true Neapolitan pizza but being located on another continent poses a few key problems for its offshore execution. He does his best to import the ingredients he deems irreplaceable (olive oil, san marzano tomatoes, Caputo brand flour), he even purchased his pizza oven from Italy. The charter insists that to achieve the true product the pizzas must be cooked in a wood burning oven that achieves a temperature of 900 degrees farenheit thats 300 degrees hotter than gas burning ovens. Why? To achieve the desired result Neapolitan pizzas are meant to be cooked in no longer than 90 seconds flat. Maxs oven is no all- purpose vessel. It is designed for one thing and one thing only Neapolitan pizza. The company he ordered it from even asked if that was what he was ordering it for as opposed to their alternate model designed for other regional pizza styles. As a result Maxs oven has an opening large enough only to accept Neapolitan size pizzas, and small enough to achieve and maintain the necessary 900 degree internal heat.

Margherita Pizza D.O.P., Pizzeria Libretto, Toronto

Though he does his best to follow the charter's rules, Max and his chef Rocco Agostino follow an Italian cooking philosophy first and foremost. “We follow the philosophy of Italian food -- local ingredients, what’s fresh immediately, we are not going to import everything, it comes down to fresh ingredients and inspiration,” and for the dynamic duo that means forsaking the charters cheese rules. According to the rules, Max should only import and use one of two types of cheese for his pies -- mozzarella di bufula campana and fior di latte dellappennino meriodionale D.O.P. But thats one rule he will not abide by. Why? Cost, freshness and industry corruption. Importing fresh cheese from another continent on a regular basis is anything but cost effective nor is it conducive to showcasing the incredible quality of the fresh product. “I just got back from Italy and had multiple layovers and waiting periods and I feel tired and less than fresh, now imagine what that does to a piece of fresh cheese”. Max also encountered problems regarding imported products dates of production -- they were frequently forged to appear more fresh than they actually were. Max wanted something fresh and local but akin to the Italian product so he teamed up with a local dairy farmer just outside Toronto who produces local Italian style cheeses. The result: -- “Our ricotta on our Marinara it is made Friday morning and served Friday night its a dream.” That dreamy cheese now comes in twice weekly. The brains behind the certification board understand that exceptions must be made abroad to comply with the charter but still create a winning result. They are not quite so lenient in Italy take for instance Maxs favorite pizzeria in Naples Da Michele. To him and many others they offer the epitome of Neapolitan style pizza but technically they break a major rule they use a lighter seed oil in place of olive oil. For Max, “they are absolutely still incredible and authentic though they break the charters rules. If Im above the standard I should be able to do what I want”. Italians are defensive of their traditions, but they will admit when something is good despite breaking rules. Da Michele uses different oil to save on cost and to prevent the oils flavor from overpowering the pizza flavor, but in every other respect they are so Neapolitan that they only produce two types of pizza for sale the Marinara and the Margherita. So are these Libretto pizzas really so distinct? My first attempt to find out resulted in a nearby restaurant getting my business. I arrived at Pizzeria Libretto late on a Saturday night greeted by a large line, at the front of which I was informed that my party would become the twentieth group waiting for a table. As we left the bustling restaurant discouraged, a woman in a mink coat muttered “not to worry, we’ve only been waiting for an hour and a half so far”. An hour and a half later I finished dinner at the Lakeview Lunch. I was anxious to eat whatever was worth hours of lining up. Was this pizza heaven or hype? The next Friday I reached out for some informed company to test the waters my cousin and his fiancé he, a pizza fanatic, and she, a pizza fanatic by proxy. They not only make their own pies in their oven on a routine basis but have eaten pizzas all over the city and abroad including authentic Neapolitan pizza in Naples. I opted to arrive alone first in order to line up while they made their way downtown. I was pleasantly informed by the hostess that it looked like forty five minutes or so. An hour and a half later my party and I were starting to resemble dehydrated fruit. We were packed tightly into the restaurant not designed for waiting left to hover over a group of four diners, salivating over their salumi platter, dribbling on their shoulders did I mention Im a vegetarian? Just when we were beginning to become irate we were offered our table. Despite the fact that the overstuffed restaurant continued to bustle out of control around us, things moved fairly smoothly from then on something I attribute largely to our graceful waiter who strutted around the room like he had on a pair of invisible heels. Our appetizers impressed but still could not wipe the frown off of my cousins fiancé face, “nothing is worth that wait”. My cousin was more optimistic but I was beginning to get very nervous. One by one our mains arrived. We strategically ordered some authentic pizzas and some of Librettos more liberal creations. We tucked in to three varieties the rapini, garlic, black olive, goats cheese and mozzarella; the Friday special, the D.O.P. Marinara prepared traditionally but finished with a generous dollop of fresh Ontario ricotta; and the D.O.P. Margherita. We even tested out the spelt crust on one of them to see how it fared. It was unanimous. Ethereal. Bliss. These pizzas were fantastic, and even more surprisingly to me, exactly as the charter intended. I was careful to bend, fold, smell and observe the traditional Margherita. It was just as it was meant to be -- blistered with bits of charring on the bottom, soft and chewy, crisp on its edges, lightly doused in tomato, topped with just melted cheese. “A characteristic aroma, at once perfumed and fragrant (as the charter lays out) released from its centre where the olive oil, fresh basil and tomato had perfectly amalgamated”. It was divine, and though it was the first to arrive at our table for several minutes, divided three ways it was enough to raise the spirits of my cousins fiancé, who looked down and said, “Forget about what I said this is amazing.” But was it my favorite? No. The untraditional ricotta on the Marinara was something truly special, delicately flavored and scrumptiously creamy (but an addition that would no doubt have a Neapolitan grandmother turning in her grave) and the balance of flavors on the rapini pizza (which had no tomato in sight) left me wishing that I had accepted the accidentally doubled order of it. So why get certified if the rules are perhaps too stringent? Cant their fabulous and more innovative pizzas speak for themselves? Pizzeria Libretto wants their certification because pizza is something about which everyone has an opinion. People talk Maxs ear off about what they consider authentic pizza but as a member of A.V.P.N. he wont have to argue their seal of approval will show any who visit his establishment that he not only knows about pizza but purveys a certifiable product one executed so perfectly that it may even provoke his more traditional customers to order one of his pizzerias own inventions. Ultimately A.V.P.N.s rules can be more like guidelines for pizzerias like Libretto attention paid when necessary but like the charters description of the final product, flexible.

Margherita Pizza D.O.P., Pizzeria Libretto, Toronto



Tuesday, December 14, 2010

what the fuck is a pluot?

“What the fuck is a pluot?” This is a question I’ve asked myself many times while shopping for fruit. I wasn’t overly eager to try it out either as it looks sort of like a large red plum with something out of whack about it; namely something orange bubbling up through its translucent purple skin. But one fateful night when plum crumble was on my menu and I was out of options I purchased a bag-full. The fruit was very firm and juicy. Sweet but not too sweet. When baked, the pluot segments bled a lovely fuchsia juice. I was inspired to find out a little more about the fruit, particularly since it was becoming commonplace in even the tiniest fruit stands around Toronto. I discovered a far more complicated food than I ever anticipated; a hybrid fruit variety with quite a history, which opened a hidden story about how all stone fruits come to our stores and mouths, and how we can never hope to experience the same thing twice.

A quick Google located a Wikipedia blurb and a genetic categorization and a patent. It seems that like any other invention, hybrid fruit gets patented and protected. The concept fruit, the pluot, is the property of a company named Zaiger’s Genetics. This company has cornered the market on this type of fruit development, hybridizing, and selling the rights to grow their many varieties of stone fruit, cherries and almonds, all thanks to one man with an obsession; Floyd Zaiger.

The road to Zaiger’s Genetics began over fifty years ago in Modesto, California when Floyd began to hybridize azelias and rododendrons to tolerate the heat of the California climate. Floyd taught agriculture at the highschool level and then at Modesto Junior College. Floyd later took a position working under Fred Anderson, the protégé of the legendary agricultural innovator, botanist and horticulturist Luther Burbank. Burbank made many notable developments in the plant world (he developed more than 800 strains and varieties of plants in his career which lasted over half a century). Burbank notably developed the Santa Rosa plum. Zaiger worked for the Anderson Nursery for two years before he came to a crucial crossroads – either stay on full time, or create his own business. He opted for a solo career and began to hybridize stone fruit as a hobby. A time consuming hobby – developing a single new stone-fruit variety is a ten to fifteen year commitment.

Today Zaiger’s Genetics is still under Floyd’s control and run by members of his immediate family, including his daughter, Leith Gardiner Zaiger, who was kind enough to give me a thorough company history. The charming madame of the Zaiger empire has a degree in plant science from the University California Davis, as well as a rough and tumble southern accent, and a direct and to the point attitude. As she put it, “I do everything around here”. The Zaigers are now seasoned professionals when it comes to stone fruit development, always working with several species at a time. In fact, they grow 60,000 seedlings a year. “We work on everything and their interspecifics, from cherries to almonds to apricots,” explains Leith Zaiger. Unlike some fruit hybrid companies, Zaiger’s Genetics do things the old fashioned way – by hand pollination. Their operations paint quite a picture – one hundred and forty acres of experimental fruit trees fill their Modesto, California property. It is there that the Zaigers develop new species of fruit trees as “God” might – growing seeds together, allowing the new fruit to mature, collecting the new seeds, replanting them, growing the new trees, and collecting the new fruit for evaluation. They work tirelessly to narrow which new species are strong and desirable enough to be developed into an official new variety. Its no game for the impatient and the customer is always right.

The Zaigers are essentially in the designer fruit business. Every species is custom made for its intended consumers. Everything from flavor to texture to size to shelf-life to acidity are factors in development. Their fruit is sold all over the world and with that comes a broad spectrum of preferences and needs, not to mention environmental conditions to be negotiated. And tastes evolve, and fast. But contending with this sort of fickleness is the Zaiger family passion and constant battle.

The Zaigers are ideally situated in Modesto, California. Leith describes the climate there as “pretty temperate.” Modesto is centrally located in California, with high temperatures in summer averaging 98 F, winter highs of 45-50F, lows of 50F by day and 35-40F by night. The area also gets two feet of fog over the ground, which undoubtedly casts a mystical mood over the experimental fields where fruit is grown not seen any other place on earth.

The Zaiger’s hand-pollination techniques make their product more desirable to the nurseries and farmers looking to steer clear of the stigmas of GMO fruit. When it comes to GMO growing practices, “some people feel you’re making ‘frankenfruit’, they feel that something detrimental would be added to the gene of the fruit”. Leith feels that, “GMO will most likely become a valuable tool, maybe not in my lifetime.” Though the Zaigers do not develop their new fruit in a laboratory, according to Leith, it is “not necessarily harder to control the new fruit using traditional techniques. Whether you grow the fruit in a lab or a greenhouse you still have to grow it out, it can always have the desired gene there, but if that gene is not expressed, it’s worthless.”

I was curious how often their experiments flop and if there is any way to predict what will result? “Every ten varieties we develop, we know two will fail but we don’t know which. Stone-fruit varieties are not like fine wine, they degrade with age; they break down. Sometimes they don’t have the longevity to last for a long time, though there are some exceptions.”

Every time the Zaigers develop a winning variety they name it, patent it, sell it, ship it and someone grows, distributes and sells it abroad. The new varieties change over with the seasons. This is because they are hybrids and have no descendants. As a result, consumers are always experiencing something new when we bite into a “peach” or “plum” from season to season. To illustrate how many varieties are developed and discarded I asked Leith if they had any best sellers, “I can’t answer that, I don’t track them after they are patented and named, there are just too many”. The various species engineered, sold and grown are part of an ongoing evolution. Basically every time you buy a “peach” or a “plum” or even a “pluot” at a market or store you could really be purchasing anything from a “Zephire” to a “Flavor Grenade” (two of Zaiger’s past popular and now defunct varieties).

Leith and her family consider themselves to be “fruit snobs”. They know what they like and know that when they go out to buy something they won’t fully be told what they’re purchasing. “It can get difficult for us as consumers, is that peach sub-acid or sweet etc?”. Leith and her family have the priveledge to constantly eat their fruit fresh off the farm before it has been chilled and shipped and stored – before it begins to decay and lose it flavor and texture. The store bought varieties pale in comparison. It is the Zaiger’s mission “to improve on the shelf life and taste of good products so the consumer can taste the difference between the many varieties of the fruit that they engineer.”

The phrase, “we can rebuild it, we can make it stronger” springs to mind.

The Zaigers have devoted their lives to developing painstakingly specific flavor profiles and physical characteristics. These will not be described to the consumer. As a result, they develop their fruits according to regional palates. A key example of a variety they perfected to meet discerning tastes is the white fleshed peach.  It all began when Floyd visited France in the late 1960s. He noticed white fleshed peaches were selling for much more money than yellow varieties. They were sweet and quite difficult to harvest, their flesh often too sensitive to pick without heavy bruising. Delicacies. So Zaiger returned home to the US to develop a stronger-fleshed white variety for France and the European palate. Today more than 50% of the European variety that exists was developed by the Zaigers in California.

The white fleshed peach is a curious development in light of the Franken-fruit debate. Many people also express concern over hybridized produce regarding its nutritional content, fearing it will be inferior to the original varieties of the fruits. But with stone fruit, there are no originals out there. Under the microscope, white fleshed peaches reveal some unexpected nutritional findings. Many scientists have speculated that the more intense the color of a fruit or vegetables’ skin the more nutrient-dense it is likely to be. This is particularly thought to be true of the beta-carotene and antioxidant content of produce. Antioxidants are molecules that go through our bodies, ridding them of free-radicals (molecules which have been linked to diseases). By flushing these free radicals from our systems, scientists speculate that we can shield our bodies from diseases, inhibiting the growth of things like cancerous cells. But past studies conducted by Dr. David Byrne published in HORT Science Magazine revealed that white peach varieties actually exhibit more beta carotene in some cases than yellow and orange varieties, a finding that even baffles Leith. Dr. Byrne also discovered that several plum and cross breed varieties of stone fruit have very high levels of antioxidants, higher than blueberries, the super-fruit called the most powerful conveyor of antioxidants available in North America. So it seems not all hybrids are nutritionally lacking, in fact far from it.

Dr. Byrne has conducted many studies on the nutritional content of various interspecific stone fruit varieties. He conducts his research via Texas A&M University, where he is a faculty member. He has received funding over the past few years from the USDA Food for Heath Project, Fruit and Vegetable Improvement Centre, and the California Tree Fruit Agreement (a collective of tree-fruit growers of the state of California that markets on their behalf). He has published his research in various journals. One of his key articles from 2006 reports, “that [though researchers report] blueberry has the highest antioxidant activity among fruit…the levels found in red-fleshed plums overlap the levels found in blueberry.

An interview with Dr. Byrne and Dr. Luis Cisneros, published on the Texas A&M, expands on the value of their discovery for the everyday consumer. The pair “judged more than 100 varieties of plums and peaches…[finding that they matched or exceeded] the much-touted blueberries in antioxidants and phytonutrients associated with disease prevention”. The finding was considered a great discovery in “tight economic times”, because of the far less expensive price for the average plum compared to blueberries.
A plum has roughly “the same amount of antioxidants as a handful of…blueberries.”

The antioxidant levels of one hundred different kinds of plums and peaches were compared to five brands of blueberries. The compounds located in the fruit were extracted and an experiment was conducted examining their effects on breast cancer cells and cholesterol. This type of testing had not been done before. Remarkably, the scientists found that “the phytonutrients in plums inhibited in vitro breast cancer growth while not bothering normal cell growth.” Their research was preliminary and since then, Dr. Byrne has received additional funding to conduct more research into the phenomenal properties of the hybridized fruits.

The amazing findings of Dr. Byrne and his associates have helped inspire new stone fruit development with a nutritional focus. This type of fruit breeding is happening locally, in Guelph Ontario. Thanks to the support of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ontario Tender Fruit Producers’ Marketing Board, the University of Guelph has been conducting research to develop healthier and tastier fruit designed for the Canadian market using genetics, selective breeding and biotechnology.

Stone fruit development seems a bizarre phenomenon in a culture infatuated with organic and heirloom produce. We are so obsessed with getting back to our food’s roots that we frequently steer clear of anything that seems like a work in progress. Yet we embrace stone fruit; hybrid varieties of fruits that are nutrient dense and delicious. Like many of human-kind’s experiments, stone fruits are constantly being perfected and are always evolving. They are not perfect, but many individuals, like the Zaigers, are striving to achieve a modern perfection that never occurred in the wild.

So what the fuck is a pluot? Subject to change.


(article originally released on

Monday, December 13, 2010