in Your Shopping Cart
Have you ever wondered where all the food at the grocery store comes
from? Who grows the vegetables and bakes the bread? How does it get to
the store? And how do we know that it's nutritious and safe to eat? Science
can help us answer these questions--and a lot more. Each year, the laboratories
and greenhouses of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) release new
and improved products and food. Next time you see a shopping cart, take
a look inside. You'll probably find that science has improved many of
the foods you eat every day. Here are some examples:
The average American eats more than 19 pounds of apples every year, but
we're not the only people who like them. Thanks to ARS quality-control
research, American apples are popular all over the world. Our scientists
have worked on bashless bagging to prevent bruising, and controlled-atmosphere
storage methods to help apples stay crisp for as long as nine months.
That means the apples stay fresh throughout the year.
Many breakfast cereals and breads are made with wheat. Across the country,
ARS scientists are working to improve the grain grown in the United States.
By working with wheat genes, they've been able to develop new wheat varieties
that can resist diseases and pests like the Hessian fly and the cereal
Everyone knows that witches are supposed to travel on broomsticks, but
did you know that witches' broom is also the name of an important cacao
tree disease? Along with frosty pod and black pod, this is one of the
most serious diseases facing the chocolate industry. ARS scientists are
developing cacao trees that can resist these diseases. That's good news
for chocolate-lovers everywhere!
Mosquitoes are a real pain--as are biting flies, ticks, and chiggers.
We ward all of them off with deet, a strong repellant that ARS discovered
Catfish might not be the prettiest fish on Earth, but they sure are tasty.
ARS has helped scale up fish farming by breeding fish for disease resistance
and finding better feeds. And catfish aren't the only ones to benefit.
ARS researchers are conducting similar research for trout and other fish
raised in ponds across the United States.
When frozen foods first hit the market, they weren't immediately popular.
Many people complained that the foods had a funny flavor, texture, or
color. Others worried about processing and storage: Were frozen foods
still nutritious? Were they safe from bacteria and other food pathogens?
ARS scientists addressed these problems with the Time-Temperature Tolerance
Project. From their research, they came up with nine principles for freezing
vegetables, which frozen food producers still use today.
Many people have trouble digesting lactose. If you're one of them, you
probably know about lactose-free dairy products. But did you know that
ARS researchers helped develop them? The trick is to change a bacterium
that occurs naturally in milk. Once changed, it produces an enzyme that
breaks down the milk's lactose, making it easier to digest.
There was a time when a good melon was hard to find. Watermelons were
tasty and nutritious, but wouldn't keep for long and were almost impossible
to ship from one place to another. So if you couldn't grow the melons
in your backyard, you were out of luck. In the 1940s, a USDA plant breeder
in Charleston, South Carolina, set out to change that. The result was
a new melon called the Charleston Gray. The Charleston Gray was sort of
long and had a hard rind, so it was easy to stack and ship. It could be
grown in different climates, it resisted several serious diseases and
it tasted terrific. Most watermelons grown today have a little Charleston
Gray in their background.
Think newspaper has nothing to do with soybeans? Think again! The ink
is made with soy oil. Soybeans are everywhere--if you know where to look
for them. They're used in soy milk, which is in turn used in infant formulas.
And then there's soy yogurt, soyburgers and soy sausage. Soy oil is the
most widely used edible oil in the United States. And it's hard to find
a chocolate treat that doesn't have soy lecithin. Between 1980 and 1994
alone, ARS scientists released 66 varieties and 280 breeding lines, so
there are a lot of soybean varieties in the United States that have been
affected by our research.
Peaches grow best in warm climates, right? Not necessarily. ARS researchers
have developed varieties of peaches that grow well in northern states,
where the weather is cooler. This gives fruit farmers more options when
deciding what to plant. Plus, it increases the growing season because
summer comes a little later to the northern states. ARS researchers have
also developed breeding lines that can resist common diseases. Breeding
lines are plants with desirable genetic characteristics that can be used
to breed new plant varieties. The researchers have also developed a kind
of beneficial bacteria that prevents brown rot on fruit.
Like your food spicy? Well, you're in luck because ARS has good news for
salsa fans. We've bred a new hot pepper that's 20 times hotter than a
typical cayenne pepper. It's very adaptable, so it can be grown just about
anywhere in the United States. We've also bred ornamental peppers that
can add brilliant color to your garden.
Years ago, ARS scientists combined starch with a synthetic chemical, creating
a product so thirsty, it could absorb 2,000 times its own weight in water.
We call it SuperSlurper. SuperSlurper is used in fuel filters, baby powders,
and batteries. Similar compounds are used in disposable diapers.
Cold cuts can make delicious sandwiches, and they don't have to be salty.
ARS researchers found that a lot of processed meats could be made with
20 to 25 percent less salt without increasing the danger of spoilage.
Salt can prevent the growth of microorganisms that cause spoilage, but
even more important than salt is proper refrigeration. One good way to
protect food from pathogens is to heat it up. But heat can change the
flavor and texture of your food. So our scientists have developed several
techniques to reduce the number of microorganisms on, and in, processed
meats and other food--without heating it up.
Compiled by Laura McGinnis, formerly Agricultural Research
Service, Information Staff
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