A personal size watermelon will appeal to the single shopper or the elderly shopper who cannot carry large quantities from the market. (Photo: Ronni Hassid)In a world where bigger is often misconstrued for better, Israeli agronomists are downsizing with a vengeance. They’ve developed an entirely new line of mini-designer vegetables and fruits aimed at revolutionizing the way we consume fresh produce and creating a new world of bite-size healthy treats.
Bitesize zucchinis, baby artichokes, Tinkerbell peppers, cucumbers and personal sized seedless watermelons were the stars of the recent Agro Mashov agricultural expo at the Tel Aviv exhibition fairgrounds. The annual event, which highlights Israeli innovations in cultivation, technologies and crop development, proved to be a showcase for the latest food fashion trend, which is gaining popularity throughout Europe.
Rami Meron, Director of Research and Development at the Vegetable Marketing Board explained they are always looking for new ways to increase sales of produce. So, as with fashion, they looked for something trendy that would attract new buyers and new markets and they came up with the boutique line of vegetables and fruits.
Merom said he hopes the new line will appeal to youth, who he believes do not eat enough vegetables because they lack a certain sex appeal.
Besides the youth as potential target markets for the bite sized produce, Marom cited the single shopper who has no need for a five-pound watermelon or the elderly shopper who cannot carry large quantities from the market.
Herzl Keren, a Vegetable Marketing Board official stressed that the new designer sizes are not the result of any kind of genetic engineering, but the outcome of several years of experimentation and innovation. “From idea to market can take three to five years. The technology is funded by the Vegetable Board together with several private companies and the Ministry of Agriculture.”
He cited the seedless, miniature watermelons as one example of Israel’s advanced technology in agricultural production. The fruit was developed by Hazera located near Kiryat Malachi. The watermelons will be in the markets this summer. “Another example are the dwarf tomatoes, smaller than the cherry tomatoes, and zebra striped tomatoes. They too are an Israeli development,” said Keren.
Zraim Hadera (Hadera Seeds) developed mini cucumbers. Keren sees them as especially popular for pickling. “They cannot be exported fresh because of their short shelf life but we foresee a big overseas markets for them as condiments.”
The tiny Ramiro peppers were actually a Dutch strain that was brought to Israel and adapted to the local conditions. Keren noted that the peppers which are exported in small amounts to Europe, come in colors ranging from deep purple to bright yellow.
Another vegetable brought to Israel and newly available are black and white radishes. Keren says foreign workers brought them here from Thailand. “Israeli farmers have been cultivating them and are now marketing them commercially.”
Another innovation which made its debut at the Agro Mashov exhibition was the “herb stick”.
“Tzachi Mordechai at Kibbutz Sde Trumot has developed a skewer of rosemary. You simply put your meat and vegetables on it before placing it on the grill. The herb infuses the meat and the vegetables with flavor,” explained Keren.
25% of Israel’s agricultural exports are vegetables. Keren said there is a growing demand in both Europe and the United States for Israeli grown herbs, for potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, especially cherry tomatoes and Tinkerbell peppers. “Russia, Eastern Europe and Scandinavian countries are showing more interest in buying Israeli produce as well.”
There are 4,000 vegetable growers in Israel. 50 percent of the farms are in the Lachish-Negev-Arava region with the rest scattered across the country from the Golan to Eilat.
Domestic consumption of fruits and vegetables is way beyond the international average according to Keren. “The Israeli is one of the world’s largest consumers of vegetables and is open to innovation.” He noted that in the United States, a number of agencies have launched a campaign to fight the growing popularity of junk food – How? By encouraging the public to eat fresh vegetables and fruits, something that comes naturally to the Israeli.
Keren added that beyond the clear nutritional value of eating a wide range of vegetables, these miniatures are also pretty and can be used decoratively. “I can see the traditional fruit bowl centerpiece being replaced by Tinkerbell peppers, bite sized cucumbers, baby courgettes and zebra tomatoes.”