Plant breeder and chef cook up veggie innovation
Writer Laura Gallup
People all over the U.S. have been doing double takes over the new Honeynut squash, marveling at its cuteness. The pocket-sized veggie was developed by Michael Mazourek, associate professor in Plant Breeding and Genetics at Cornell University.
Seven years ago Mazourek was experimenting in the lab with the mini squash when celebrity chef Dan Barber took interest. Their unique partnership got the food world buzzing. Mazourek and Barber collaborated to breed for taste, instead of yield or shelf life, and the results are fantastic.
“Honeynut is much like a concentrated butternut squash: sweeter, richer and more velvety,” Mazourek said. “It’s consistently good because it has a built-in ripeness indicator so you can avoid green, unripe ones that don’t taste as good as they should.”
Plant breeders like Mazourek create new varieties by manipulating the process of natural selection. Two plants are bred together, seeds from that generation’s harvest are planted and then you collect the best specimens’ seeds. Not only does the shrunken squash taste better, it was bred to have less water weight and more nutrients, with an edible skin. It’s the perfect size to cook for one. Harvested in late fall, it can be stored for a few months.
The small squash has set big things in motion for the world of new-and-improved veggies. “This was largely the genesis of Row 7, the seed company we founded to develop and introduce delicious new crops with a chef-breeder partnership,” said Mazourek. If you happen to live in a city that has a sweetgreen chain restaurant, you will find a menu item built around the new Robin’s Koginut squash. If not, get your taste buds ready and stay on the lookout for the Badger Flame beet, Upstate Abundance potato, 898 squash, Habanada pepper and more.
Laura Gallup is the managing editor of Edible Finger Lakes as well as the marketing and events coordinator for the Ithaca Farmers Market. She grew up eating strawberries by the bucketful on her dad’s farm in Hector, NY.