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Long Lost Urban Fruit May Be More Nutritious Than Commercially Grown Counterparts, Say Researchers

Nov 02, 2015 06:25 PM EST
Apple Tree
In a recent study, researchers reveal that some urban produce may be more nutritious than its retail counterparts.
(Photo : Flickr: liz west)

Trees left over in cities from long-ago orchards or city landscaping early in the 20th century are still bearing nutritious fruits and herbs and are not unclean, researchers from Wellesley College and the League of Urban Canners (LUrC) reported in a recent study. They recently collected and analyzed 166 samples of apples, peaches, and cherries along with other urban fruits and herbs both before and after being washed and peeled, looking closely for signs of lead and pollution intake. But they were surprised to find the produce did not contain the high levels of urban pollutants they surmised would be present. Moreover, these fruits and herbs were more nutritious than their retail counterparts, according to a news release.

"This is a story with a good ending: not much lead in these urban harvested fruit," Dan Brabander, a Wellesley geosciences and environmental studies professor, said in the release. Brabander has previously studied lead exposure risk in urban gardens and in areas impacted by historical mining activities.

Historically, orchard farmers used arsenic as a pesticide but researchers found no evidence of arsenic in their samples. Still, they plan to monitor areas where these pesticides may have been used long ago.

After checking for lead and arsenic, the researchers then moved onto to nutritional content and found that compared to commercially grown fruits, urban-grown fruits were about 2.5 times more nutritious in calcium and iron. 

"When they grow in a commercial setting the soils can become quite impoverished," Brabander explained. "In the urban setting where the trees sampled tend to be older perhaps they are able to shuttle micronutrients from a wider and more diverse range of horizons."

Although, it is important to note that this study does not prove that all urban produce is safe to eat. Local conditions can vary greatly and pollution plays a key role in contaminating fruit trees, Brabander added.

The researchers plan to present their findings at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Baltimore. 

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