Plumcots? Broccoflower?

No, these foods aren’t from a cartoon funny farm. They’re hybrid fruits and vegetables, and they’re all the rage these days as plant specialists crossbreed plums with apricots, broccoli with cauliflower, and much more to produce hybrid super-foods.

In some instances, the new hybrids were developed to better resist pests and diseases than their parents. In others, breeders “are finding ways to naturally combine the best nutritional and sensory characteristics of two different fruits or vegetables,” explains food scientist Alfred Bushway, a spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists. “The results often have increased levels of phytochemicals [health-promoting plant substances] and nutrients.” 

So what are some of the hottest hybrid super-foods appearing at farmers' markets and grocery stores? Here's the inside scoop:

Plumcot

With a ratio of 75 percent plum to 25 percent apricot, these smooth-skinned fruits are very sweet -- much sweeter than apricots. (By contrast, their cousins, the apriums, have a higher percentage of apricot than plum, which makes them look and taste more like apricots, notes University of Maine professor of food science and human nutrition Mary Ellen Camire.) Several varieties of plumcots exist nowadays, so you'll find them with skin ranging from green to purple and flesh in the yellow-orange-red spectrum.

Why it's good for you:

It’s high in vitamin C, potassium, anthocyanins, lycopene, lutein and other phytochemicals.

Broccolini

A mix of broccoli and Chinese kale, broccolini has thinner, more tender stalks than regular broccoli and "a slightly milder, sweeter flavor than either broccoli or Chinese kale," says Camire.

Why it's good for you:

Loaded with vitamins C, K, folate and beta carotene, broccolini is also a rich source of health-promoting phytochemicals, including sulforaphane, lutein and quercetin.

Tangelo

The result of cross-breeding tangerines with pomelos (a type of grapefruit), the tangelo is about the size of a large orange but “with more of a tangerine taste,” Camire says, since "the bitter compounds of grapefruit have been bred out.”

Why it's good for you:

It’s a good, juicy source of vitamin C with an even higher content of dietary flavonols (another type of phytochemical) than its parents have, Bushway says. 

Broccoflower

It’s just what it sounds like -- a cross between broccoli and cauliflower. A broccoflower looks like a light green cauliflower and offers a milder, less bitter flavor than is found in either of its parents.

Why it's good for you:

A good source of vitamin C, folic acid and beta carotene, the broccoflower is also high in antioxidant phytochemicals like sulforaphane, lutein and quercetin.

Nectaplum

Yep, it’s part nectarine, part plum -- and totally sweet, juicy and delicious. Though these hybrids look more like nectarines than plums, “they tend to be much sweeter and have higher sugar content than either parent,” Camire says.

Why it's good for you:

Like its parents, this variety contains vitamin C, potassium and beta carotene.

If you're feeling uncertain about trying hybrid fruits and vegetables, don't. This produce is bred to please and often includes the very best qualities of both parents, Camire says. Plus, “there are a lot of health and nutritional advantages to having a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet,” she says, and "these hybrids are a good way to get that.”

Stacey Colino has written for The Washington Post health section and many national magazines, including Newsweek, Real Simple, Woman's Day, Self, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Parenting, Sports Illustrated and Ladies' Home Journal.

 

Available at Amazon.com:

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