Under a video on how to pick a ripe watermelon, I came across a random rant about seedless fruits. Some person was complaining about the absence of black seeds in watermelons and wished they would come back. I’ve never seen anyone lamenting the absence of seeds in a watermelon, but it wasn’t this curious comment that piqued my interest, but a reply to it: If a fruit is seedless, nine times out of ten it’s genetically modified. This was the third time in as many days I’d come across such an assertion. Is it true? Are today’s seedless fruits the result of genetic engineering? Have their genes been artificially modified to cause them to stop producing seeds?
Seedless Fruits are Not New, But Very Old
A clue may be found in the word ‘today.’ Seedless fruits have, in fact, been around for a very long time. I grew up eating seedless white grapes, for example, long before GMO was heard of. Seedless grapes have been cultivated for centuries. Although we cannot be certain, it is thought they may have been cultivated thousands of years ago in what is now Iraq or Afghanistan. And, since raisins are dried grapes, haven’t you noticed they have no seeds? Most raisins come from Thompson seedless grapes.
When I was younger, a seedless fruit was a good thing and most seedless varieties still outsell their seeded counterparts even if they do not taste as good. For example, consider the navel orange. As you will discover by reading that article, America’s favorite seedless orange, the navel, was not made using genetically modified organisms. It came from a natural mutation in a single tree, which was then reproduced by grafting.
Not All ‘Seedless’ Fruits are Truly Seedless
In fact, some seedless fruits are not truly seedless but have very small seed traces or remnants. Fruits without any seeds at all fall under the category of parthenocarpy while those with small seed traces fall under the category of stenospermocarpy, as revealed here. This means that seeds begin to form in the fruit but at some point, the process of seed development is aborted. Seedless watermelons and seedless grapes both fall under this category. Seedless watermelons have very small white seeds that are not crunchy.
And, the next time you eat a seedless grape, whether white or red, pay close attention. You may find a tiny seed in there. In fact, you may get a bit of a crunch in seedless red varieties, now and again.
Seedless Fruits are Produced the Old-Fashioned Way, Not in a Lab
All seedless fruit varieties come about through careful breeding, not genetic modification in a lab. The fellow on YouTube said nine times out of ten, they are genetically modified. Well, technically, they are. But not modified in the way most people think. Any time we seek to breed plants with certain desirable traits, we are performing a type of genetic modification. Many of the fruits and vegetables we enjoy, without this breeding, would be a shadow of what we are used to, if not outright inedible. For example, you would absolutely not enjoy a wild banana, as I explained in Six Surprising Facts About Bananas. Also, one of the most important families of vegetables, the cabbage family, or more correctly, the Brassicaceae family, are all the result of this type of breeding manipulation which has gone on not for hundreds of years, but for thousands.
There Are No GMO Seedless Fruits Sold Today
There are NO seedless fruits sold today which are GMO. None. It’s actually a bit silly to think otherwise since biotechnology is used to produce genetically modified seeds meant to be useful in agriculture in some way, such as being resistant to drought or pests. There simply is no need to use such advanced technology to produce a seedless plant as it’s already done through crossbreeding and asexual reproduction.
So, the next time you enjoy a seedless watermelon, grape, or orange, rest assured that there is no reason to fear it.
To read more about the science of seedless fruits see Seedless Fruit is Not Something New on the Michigan State University website.