The word fruit – just as in the adjective fruitful, meaning beneficial or profitable – comes from the latin fructus, which means many things, among them satisfaction, pleasure and gratification. And since fruit’s entire purpose in life is to be eaten, it appeals to our senses and gives us many pleasures: tastes, odors, textures and colors.
In the Mediterranean, due to the latitude and the temperate climate, we are blessed with both an abundance of fruit and many varieties. Let’s make the most of them!
- In the Mediterranean, the latitudes, the moderate temperature, the long hours of daylight, and the sea’s humidity have allowed a wide variety of fruits to develop. Since ancestral times, this region has witnessed the farming of grapes, almonds, figs, dates, hazelnuts, pistachios and carob. Other crops, despite being introduced, are also Mediterranean classics, such as citrus fruits (oranges, mandarins and lemons), peaches, melons, watermelon, pears, etc.
- Fruit is another element of the traditional Mediterranean diet and has been present since ancient times. In Ancient Greece, for example, figs were the favorite. They were eaten as an appetizer with wine, or with food, and Plato reported that they were the finest food for an athlete. It is known that romans had the custom of eating fruit after meals: they knew it satiates the appetite (because of the fructose) and in their feasts and banquets they offered fruit for dessert.
- Trade between Mediterranean nations has existed since ancient times. Egypt was the first big agricultural producer in the Mediterranean, due to the fertility of the silty lands next to the Nile. They produced, large amounts of figs, dates, grapes, pomegranates and almonds, and exchanged these and other crops with other Mediterranean nations.
- Currently, the Mediterranean region is an important producer of fruit, responsible for 14% of global production in 2007. Of these countries, Italy, Spain and Turkey are the major producers. The EU is the main importer of fruit from Mediterranean countries, as well as the main exporter to those countries.
Fruit, as well as being a source of tastes, colors, textures, juiciness and smells, is a source of nutrition. When we eat fruit, we are eating mostly water, fiber, and sugars; but in lesser quantities, there is also a lot more: vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, trace elements, substances which give the fruit its flavor and odor.
Every type of fruit contains a different combination of nutrients. The nourishment we recieve will depend on this, as well as other factors such as the way we eat it, when we eat it, etc. We should keep all this in mind in order to get the most out of it.
- To get the greatest benefit, we should eat a variety of fruit on a regular basis, in balance with a varied diet.
- Fruit is an excellent source of vitamin C. Strawberries, kiwis, and citrus fruits (common to the Mediterranean) have the most.
- Color can be a clue as to what substances each fruit is rich in. Keep that in mind when buying fruit, and try to combine different colors.
- Fresh fruit is the best option in terms of nutrition. Eating a piece of fruit tends to be more complete nutritionally than than drinking juice or eating a fruit yogurt. Juice has more sugar and less fiber per gram than whole fruit. One fruit yogurt has about 10% of a piece of fruit.
- In general, the longer since a piece of fruit was harvested, the more nutritional quality it will have lost. For example, antioxidants, such as vitamin C, diminish in contact with oxygen. That is why it is best to eat seasonal fruit and not fruit which has been harvested long ago.
Today there is tendency worldwide to commercialize every variety of fruit throughout the entire year. However, most fruits are seasonal, that is to say, they are harvested in one specific time of the year and then there is none until the following year. So how is it possible that we can eat melons in winter and mandarins in the summer? When faced with all of the fruits, colors, and flavors available, there are a series of criteria we can use to help us make more conscious choices.
- Choose fruit that is in season. The fruits our natural environment offers are adapted to our necessities during their growing season (juicier in summer, warmer in the winter) and are healthier eaten in season.
- Choose fruits of local origin. Each climate region has specific types of fruit trees, adapted to that specific natural environment. Eating fruit grown nearby helps preserves indigenous species, as well as the local culture and economy. At the same time, it is also more sustainable.
- Choose fruit that is starting to ripen. Fruit has the most nutrition when ripest, but not overripe. Whether fruit must ripen on the vine or can ripen after harvesting varies depending on the fruit.
- It doesn’t have to be pretty. Small fruit or that has been nibbled by birds can be perfectly fine. Or if it is bruised, you can just cut out that part. Often the fruit found in organic shops isn’t perfect.
Today there are three main methods of fruit production and marketing: conventional organic, and integrated. Each varies considerably in their environmental and social impact, and the probability of finding pesticide residues on fruit is higher in the conventional fruit. By taking into account how the fruit we eat has been grown, we can give preference to options which respect the environment, the people who live in it, and our health.
- The best choice a conscious consumer can make is to choose fruit that has been grown organically. It guarantees the sustainability of agriculture, prevents pesticide residues in the fruit and has been shown to be more nutritious than conventional fruit. It can be identified by distinct logos in the Mediterranean. Remember that the label will be on the box, not on the fruit!
- In integrated production, synthetic pesticides are allowed, but in limited amounts. Fruit produced this way can be identified by several logos, depending on where it is grown.
- The Designation of Origin and Protected Geographical Indication identify fruit which is specific to a particular region. In the Mediterranean there is a wide variety of them on the market.
From the tree to the shopping basket, fruit can take a variety of paths, but there are two main routes, or channels of distribution: the so-called traditional channel and modern channel. When purchasing, it is important to know that there are significant differences between one commercial model and another. We recommend direct contact with growers or the traditional channel.
- Buy from fruit stands, markets and organic groceries, that way you are helping support the local economy.
- Vendors often know the fruit business well and can answer questions about the quality and the origin of the fruit they sell.
- Do you really want to buy fruit from big multinationals? Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte are proponents of a political and economic system that been accused of inequality. They continue to abuse workers and the Earth.
- If you have a yard or a garden, you can plant fruit trees! Lemon trees, or slow-growing fruit trees such as figs can do well in a fairly large pot on a balcony.
There are many ways to enjoy fruit. Eating it in certain moments of the day will also affect how we feel. We should take all this into account in order to get the most of it.
- Variety is the spice of life. Take advantage of all the different ways that fruit can be consumed: as juice, in smoothies, as an ingredient in a salad, with meat, in cakes, etc.
- We should eat fruit on a regular basis. A habit of eating it at the same time each day can help to remember.
- Eating fruit with the peel can provide more fiber and nutrition. If the fruit is grown conventionally, we can wash it to eliminate possible pesticide residues on the skin. We can also peel it; though there may still be residues inside the fruit. To be certain, the solution is to eat organic fruit.
- Eating fruit right after eating proteins (meat, milk products, etc.) can give an acid stomach. Pay attention to how your body reacts. If it affects you, eat it at another time (such as before a meal).
If we are careless, fruit can get overripe and begin to spoil. But don’t let this food go to waste.
- In a cool room or a fridge fruit will take longer to spoil.
- Eat the ripest ones first. If there are some that are bruised or have some mold on them, usually the part that is not rotten can still be put to good use.
- If there’s a lot of ripe fruit, we can still use it to make: preserves, syrup, jelly, jam, liquor, dried fruit…
- Figs, for example, and other fruits that dehydrate well have traditionally been an important source of food in seasons when fresh fruit wasn’t available.