I’ve always favored salty snacks over sweet. I’m not sure what this reveals about my personality, but it does mean that the pickle—the humblest, briniest, saltiest treat of them all—has always been a favorite. As a child, I engineered a series of brilliant modifications to this simple vegetable, including pickle brine frozen into ice cubes and pickles split open and stuffed with peanut butter. These tasty innovations went wholly unappreciated by my parents, who worried about the centrality of such a nutritionally bankrupt food in my diet.
But wait! A healthier pickle lies on the horizon. Grow magazine reports that horticulturists at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are working to re-create a cucumber that’s rich in the antioxidant beta carotene. The project was originally thought up some 20 years ago, when Philipp Simon embarked on a decade-long project to cultivate a healthier cucumber. After a number of years spent planting, cross-breeding, and refining the hybrid cucumbers, Simon and his colleagues worked with Claussen in the mid-1990s to have them pickled. Apart from their health benefits, the new pickles were, as one of Simon's partners John Navazio told Grow, “lovely to eat.”
That was great news for the hardworking horticulturists, but here’s the catch: Their high beta-carotene content makes these healthy pickles orange. Really orange. And in 1997, before health food was all the rage, Claussen’s marketing team wasn’t sure that orange pickles would attract many customers. Then Navazio graduated, the project’s funding ran out, and the seeds of the lovely orange cucumber were shut up in seed envelopes.
Times have changed, of course, and nutrition has become a primary grocery-store obsession. So in 2005, Simon began working with Hugo Cuevas, a grad student in the university’s Agricultural & Life Sciences program, to bring the orange pickle back to life. Quite literally, in fact: After years of dormancy, the seeds no longer produced the beta-carotene–enriched cucumber that had taken so long to achieve in the first place. They hope to fully recreate it within the next two years.
And when they do, I’ll be calling my mom for a little I-told-you-so session. About twenty years too late.
Photo: Bruce Fritz/USDA Agricultural Research Service