History and Importance of Fruits

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History and Importance of Fruits

1.1Origin and history

Fruits present many morphological variations. In the botanical sense, a fruit is “a seed receptacle developed from the ovary of a flower” (Tucker et al. 1993)1. However, some fruits (e.g. bananas) are seedless because they develop by parthenocarpy (meaning without fertilization). Other fruits (e.g. pineapple and strawberry) develop from structures other than the ovary. Furthermore, there are many fruits which meet the requirements set in the above definition, but which are not only inedible but often toxic. For the consumer, fruits are “crop products with aromatic flavour, which are either naturally sweet or normally sweetened before eating”. So in horticulture, a more colloquial definition is adopted for the term fruit as: “something which is eaten fresh and out of hand”. In that sense, some fruits are “fruits per se” (e.g. apples, bananas, oranges etc.), other fruits are “vegetable fruits” (e.g. tomatoes), while others are “oil seeds” (e.g. peanut, coconut, macadamia etc.). The nutritional value of fruits lies in the fact that these products are important sources of vitamins, minerals and fibres (roughage).

Fruit trees have provided food to wildlife, bird, and animals since the Biblical account of creation. History of humanity also recognizes that fruits were the basic food item for human beings from the time of hunters/gatherers. Although the exact location of the origin of some fruits is not clearly identified, researchers have been able to find proof of the place of origin for many others. Just to give an example, citrus fruits are thought to have originated from most researchers place it in South-East Asia, at least 4000 years BC. Almost all sources agree that the sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) was domesticated in China and they were grown in that country as early as 2,500 BC. Lime (Citrus aurantifolia) developed from the citron (Citrus medica) which may be native to a zone from the central Himalayas to Yunnan. Kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix D.C.) is believed to have its origin in Malaysia where it was grown for the flavouring of the leaves and for the fruit itself. The Pomelo (Citrus maxima) is native to SE Asia as far as Fiji Islands and may have been introduced into China around 100 BC. The Mandarin (Citrus reticulata) may be closest to Citrus indica which has been found in the Khasi hills, Eastern Assam and adjacent regions. First, citrus fruits were taken to North Africa and then, when the Arabs conquered Spain in the 8th century they introduced oranges. In the 16th century Spaniards took oranges to the Americas. International trade in fresh citrus fruits began much later, and international trade in orange juice only started to increase in the 1940s, after World War II, when citrus processing technologies were invented and developed.

Another example is the apple which has been grown for thousands of years. It was well known to the Ancient China and Egypt. Apples were also known to the Greeks and Romans and they were popular through all the centuries to the present day. Water apple (Syzygium aqueum), Malay Apple (Syzygium malaccense), Java apple (Syzygium samarangense) all presumably originated in South-East Asia, with Syzygium aqueum occurring more widely and S. Malaccensebeing more restricted to Java, Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia. Portuguese traders carried the Malay apple from Malacca to Goa and from there it was introduced into East Africa.

However, the above discussion should not create the impression that all fruits have their origin in SE Asia. Just to mention a few examples, it is generally agreed that the Oil Palm (Elaeis guineensis) originated in the tropical rain forest region of West Africa. The main belt of the oil palm runs through the southern latitudes of Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Togo and into the equatorial region of Angola and the Congo. Processing oil palm fruits for edible oil has been practiced in Africa for thousands of years, and the oil produced is an essential ingredient in much of the traditional West African cuisine. Unfortunately, the traditional process of extracting palm oil though simple, is tedious and inefficient. During the 14th to 17th centuries some palm fruits were taken to the Americas and from there to the Far East. The plant appears to have thrived better in the Far East, thus providing the largest commercial production of an economic crop far removed from its centre of origin. It is also agreed that passion fruits were native to central South America but they were given their name by the Spanish explorers who though that the plant reminded of the passion of Christ. Pears are native to Europe and North Asia.

1.2Importance of fruits

1.2.1In The Economy Of A Country

Like other sectors of agriculture, there are many reasons why fruit production is important in any country. Examples are:

  • Food supply because as will be discussed below, fruits are among the oldest and healthiest sources of food for humans.

  • Source of employment directly (full-time farmers, farm labourers, farm managers....) or indirectly (distributors, middlemen, employees of agricultural marketing organisations, those employed by other industries such as those dealing with agrochemicals, farm machinery etc..)

  • Provision of foreign exchange needed for import of manufactured goods such as cars, oil, medicine etc..

  • Source of income and capital when farmers get money after sale of their produce and they use it to pay bills and other family needs or to they invest it in improving their farm.

  • Provision of market for industrial goods when farmers get money and buy goods manufactured by industries, and that way industries also expand their production due increased demand.

  • Provision of raw materials for industries: processing the fruits into products such as juice, jam, jelly, marmalade, puree, pickles, wine, vinegar, and confectionary. Fruit may also be dried, canned or frozen. Other important uses are flavouring for ice cream and as a base for milk shakes and soups.

Kenya’s horticultural sector has received a great deal of attention over the past decade due to the rapid and sustained growth of its exports to Europe. This impressive growth has undoubtedly contributed to increased rural incomes. Yet despite that growth, exports remained a small fraction of Kenya’s overall horticultural sector as over 90% of all fruit and vegetable production was consumed domestically. While over 90% of smallholder farmers in all but the arid regions of Kenya produce horticultural products, less than 2% of them do so directly for export.

1.2.2In Human Nutrition

  1. Replenishing body water: two-thirds of the human body is made up of  water and some of that water is lost through transpiration and metabolism every day. A human body needs daily an equivalent of about eight to ten glasses of water to replace the water it loses. These needs are satisfied by the intake of liquids from a wide diversity of sources some which may be in liquid form (drinks, juices….), others in solid form (such as fruits and vegetables which are made of 80 to 95% water, meat products which are made of 50% water, cereals like rice and oats which can contain as much as 35% water etc.).

  2. Source of vitamins, minerals: fruits have also a lot of vitamins like vitamin A (especially apricots and cantaloupe) and vitamin C (especially citrus fruits like, oranges and grapefruits). These two vitamins help heal cuts, assist night vision and create beautiful skin. Oranges are also very rich in potassium, and folic acid. Freshly squeezed juices from fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of minerals and vitamins that catalyze chemical reactions occurring in the body and they produce the energy needed for digestion, absorption, and conversion of food into body tissues. An increased intake of fruit and vegetable juices ensures that the body will efficiently absorb more minerals and vitamins.

  3. Source of antioxidants: some fruit juices are rich in antioxidants (which are natural substances found in most plants and have the potential to help combat heart diseases and fight cancer), and anthocyanins (water soluble pigments found in plants which act as antioxidants). These are found in fruits such as grapes (purple), pomegranate, blueberries and cranberry.

  4. Body detoxification: another helpful benefit of fruits and fruit juices is that they help to cleanse the body by promoting detoxification. Fruits such tomatoes, pineapples, and citruses such as oranges, red grapefruits, and lemons are known for their detoxifying properties.

  5. Other health benefits: fruits are high in fibre which helps the stomach digest food and may help to reduce cancer. It has also been proved that provided that they are taken in moderation, fruits and fruit juices give certain health benefits, for example grape juice is believed to lower the chances of blood clots in the heart and orange juice is believed to prevent stroke and reduce the risk of heart attacks. By increasing an intake of fruits and vegetables, one is gradually reducing the risk of becoming ill, as this would boost the immune system as well as building resistance to common diseases and infections like: cardio-vascular diseases, kidney failure, stroke, hole-in-heart, osteoporosis among others. Though some of such popular beliefs have no scientific basis to their therapeutic claims, most scientists say that many fruits and fruit juices are indeed healthy to take.

  6. Healthier alternative for snacks: fruits can act as a substitute for sugary snacks, which are known to deplete energy and lead to numerous health problems: the natural sugar contained in fruits is essential for the effective maintenance of the immune system and the body’s natural defence mechanisms. Increasing fruits in the diet is therefore a healthy snacking alternative especially given the fact that in increase in fruit and vegetable intake is believed to increase attention span and to reduce fatigue. Compared to other food products, most fruits offer the advantage of having little fat. Fruits can be taken in the form of fresh fruit, pure fruit juices, dried fruit (e.g. raisins), frozen fruit, canned fruit etc..

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