Can Food be Too Clean?

While I’ll admit experiencing glee after finding a hydroponic plant in the farmers market, especially in the dead of winter, I have yet to be bowled over by their flavor. (On the other hand, they do happen to look gorgeous.) Perhaps being suspended in air – soil-less – with roots touching nothing but clean pure water (with whatever necessary nutrients pipette in) leaves the plant feeling a little, well, uprooted.

Whether it is wine or veggies, it seems a little struggle – pushing those roots through gravelly soil, craning the leaves to reach the sun – is good for a plant. That is, if you believe, as I do, that a domesticated plant ‘wants,’ in an evolutionary sense, to taste good so that its seeds will be saved and planted again.

In humans, a little bit of stress is actually great for our health. (There is lots of psychological research on this fact, but here is new metabolic finding with the same conclusion.) And in plants, it certainly ups the antioxidant quotient, which, along with other nutrients, are being linked to certain flavor intensities.

So what to do with rampant food scares leading everyone to want pristine, carefully coddled food, such as this movement in Japan to grow produce in laboratory-esque environments – no dirt, no bugs, low struggle and most likely low taste and low health benefits? Safe, yes. But so is WonderBread.

(Hat tip to Robert Roy Britt for covering this on The Water Cooler.)

The answer is not to retreat to a lab, quaking in our boots. Yes, our existing food system is a mess. But messes are not scary. They just need cleaning up.

picture credit, via dreamstime

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