If broccoli wasn't bred as a dye source, what was?
November 9, 2006 10:11 AM   Subscribe

Is there a common food we eat that was bred as a dye source by a University?

Years ago, I read an anecdote that broccoli was bred as a dye source by a University, and while the experiment was a failure, the vegetable was found to be a suitable food product.

After a little research today, it doesn't seem like broccoli was the vegetable in the anecdote. Did I misremember the vegetable? Does anyone know what I'm talking about?

If it helps, I believe I read the anecdote in Isaac Asimov's Book of Facts.
posted by adamwolf to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
We usually associate the Etruscans with Italy, but these people, originally called the Rasenna, came from Asia Minor, now Turkey. It was in this region that the Rasenna began cultivating cabbages, the precursors to broccoli. These cruciferous vegetables were also grown along the Eastern Mediterranean. During the 8th century BCE, the Rasenna began their migration to Italy.

The ancient Rasenna actively traded with the Greeks, Phoenicians, Sicilians, Corsicans, and Sardinians. No doubt their broccoli cultivation spread throughout the region and eventually reached Rome when they settled in what is now known as Tuscany. It was the Romans who called these immigrants "Tusci" or "Etrusci" and referred to ancient Tuscany as Etruria.

The Romans were enamored with broccoli almost immediately. Pliny the Elder, an Italian naturalist and writer, 23 to 79 CE, tells us the Romans grew and enjoyed broccoli during the first century CE. The vegetable became a standard favorite in Rome where the variety called Calabrese was developed. The Calabrese is the most common variety still eaten in the United States today. Before the Calabrese variety was cultivated, most Romans were eating purple sprouting broccoli that turned green when cooked.

Apicius, the beloved cookbook author of ancient Rome, prepared broccoli by first boiling it and then bruising it "with a mixture of cumin and coriander seeds, chopped onion plus a few drops of oil and sun-made wine."

Long before the modern European cooks were serving broccoli with rich sauces, the Romans were presenting this vegetable with all sorts of creamy sauces, some cooked with wine, others flavored with herbs.

Roman Emperor Tiberius, 14 BCE to 37 BCE, had a son named Drusius who took his love of broccoli to excess. Excluding all other foods, he gorged on broccoli prepared in the Apician manner for an entire month. When his urine turned bright green and his father scolded him severely for "living precariously," Drusius finally abandoned his beloved broccoli.
posted by parmanparman at 10:25 AM on November 9, 2006 [3 favorites]

Are you thinking of carrots (which were purple but bred by the Dutch to be orange?
posted by parmanparman at 10:26 AM on November 9, 2006

If you're going to copy/paste, then cite your sources, butthead.

posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:28 AM on November 9, 2006

lol I was just getting ready to throw some roses at parmanparman.

posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:34 AM on November 9, 2006

I guess Beets. They come in less vivd colors than the conventional fuschia-red.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:17 AM on November 9, 2006

red cabbage dye is used as food coloring... not sure if that fits with anything else in your story though
posted by edgeways at 11:52 AM on November 9, 2006

Response by poster: I seem to have thought they were breeding the plant to be a green dye, but that might be a detail I misremembered after thinking the plant was broccoli.
posted by adamwolf at 12:31 PM on November 9, 2006

I don't know whether to be pleased that Optimus Chyme pointed out parmanparman's plaigiarism, or to be annoyed that crap like that is on teh internets for people to buy as a legit source.

vegparadise.com on the Etruscans = utter crap.

/off topic rant.
posted by AthenaPolias at 3:43 PM on November 9, 2006

I'm with you AthenaPolias. Everybody knows the CIA came up with broccoli. Sheesh.
posted by kookoobirdz at 6:34 PM on November 9, 2006

as to my plagiarism, I should have cited that.
posted by parmanparman at 12:27 PM on November 14, 2006

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