Do French merlots or German rieslings have Turkish ancestors? That's the intriguing proposition raised by a Swiss botanist, who, using DNA analysis, is arguing that many of the wine grapes used today in western Europe and other parts of the world descend from wild grape varieties domesticated by Stone Age farmers in what is now Turkey. Reports AFP:
Today Turkey is home to archaeological sites as well as vineyards of ancient grape varieties like Bogazkere and Okuzgozu, which drew the curiosity of the Swiss botanist and grape DNA sleuth Jose Vouillamoz, for the clues they may offer to the origin of European wine.
Together with the biomolecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern, Vouillamoz has spent nearly a decade studying the world's cultivated and wild vines.
"We wanted to collect samples from wild and cultivated grape vines from the Near East -- that means southeastern Anatolia, Armenia and Georgia -- to see in which place the wild grape was, genetically speaking, linked the closest to the cultivated variety."
"It turned out to be southeastern Anatolia," the Asian part of modern Turkey, said Vouillamoz, speaking at the EWBC wine conference in the Turkish city of Izmir this month. "We propose the hypothesis that it is most likely the first place of grape vine domestication."
McGovern's lab at the University of Pennsylvania Museum also provided archaeological evidence of wine's Anatolian roots after analysing residues of liquid recovered from vessels thousands of years old.
Author of "Uncorking the Past" and "Ancient Wine", McGovern used a sensitive chemical technique to look for significant amounts of tartaric acid -- for which grapes are the only source in the Middle East.
The end of summer and the return of cooler weather has traditionally signaled the beginning of fishing season in the waters around Istanbul and the rest of Turkey. These days, this time of the year also means the return of controversy and debate over the future of the country's fishing industry and government efforts to make sure that industry even has a future.
As reported in a previous Kebabistan blog post and in a subsequent Eursianet article, the previous fishing season turned violent after the government imposed a minimum catch-size limitation on certain types of fish. Following the imposition of the new regulations, the head of an Istanbul fisheries union that supported the change was shot in the face last January by a gunman who challenged him about it (the union leader survived, although he did lose an eye).
This year, the Turkish government is proposing more new regulations designed to prevent overfishing, most significantly forbidding dragnet fishing in waters that are less than 24-meters(78 feet) deep and completely banning the use of dragnets in certain sensitive areas, such as the waters around the Princes' Islands near Istanbul.
As readers of this blog may know, Kebabistan has been diligently tracking the global expansion of caviar production from its ancestral home in the Caspian region to such far flung places as Argentina, South Korea and even the desert of the Arabian Gulf. Now add Israel to the list of countries that are churning out caviar for the upscale masses. Reports NPR's The Salt food blog:
At Galilee Caviar in Kibbutz Dan, Israel, there are pools of sturgeon everywhere you look. The massive fish aren't much to look at — they look like a cross between a seal and a catfish. But they demand a high price — about $2,500 each, says Yigal Ben Tzvi, the owner of the company.
And each fish is a 10- to 15-year investment, he says. When we visited, it was the day Ben Tzvi began hauling these monsters out of their ponds and checking them for the quality of the caviar inside.
The fish are carefully cultivated and the females selected for osetra caviar production. The whole thing has the air of a hospital operation. The fish are reeled in by net, and then anesthetized in smaller tanks. Biologist Avshalom Hurvitz sits at a small white table, gingerly pulling back tissue with a scalpel to show us what's inside.
"These are the eggs, and they are 3 millimeters in diameter. They have a pale gray color, which is nice. I see no fat tissue here. It means that the yield of caviar will be high," Huvitz says.
Considering the growing number of sturgeon farming operations are out there these days, can caviar prices maintain their high level? Will the world's gourmet markets be soon flooded with cut-rate caviar? Stay tuned.
As anyone who has visited Turkey knows, the fruits and vegetables there taste, well, simply more like what fruits and vegetables should taste like. To anyone used to the mealy, flavorless tomatoes sold in American supermarkets, their first taste of a vine-ripened Turkish tomato is likely a revelation.
But a new report by Greenpeace's German branch could make that tomato and other Turkish fruits and vegetables a little less appetizing. From the Green Prophet blog:
Of 76 different fruits and vegetables recently evaluated, Turkish peppers contained the most excessive and dangerous amounts of pesticide chemicals, according to Food Without Pesticides, a new 26-page guide to European food released this week by Greenpeace Germany.
Turkish peppers topped the list of “most contaminated” produce in the guide, with an average of 24 chemical substances found in the specimens analyzed. In second place, with an average of 10 chemical substances, were Turkish pears. Nine chemical substances were found in Turkish pears, on average, putting them at third place.
Eleven different Turkish crops were rated, using 582 samples. The guide used a green/yellow/red light system to show its ratings, with a red light meaning that more than one-third of the samples had dangerous levels of chemicals in them.
Among the most recent additions to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault -- a repository located deep inside a Norwegian mountain some 600 miles from the Arctic Circle that's designed to safeguard the world's botanical gene pool -- is wheat from Tajikistan, where the harsh environment has created a particularly hardy strain of the plant. From a story that first appeared on the Salt, NPR's food blog:
Every seed that arrived this week has its own story. The shipment included seeds from a barley variety that came to the U.S. from Poland in 1938, and from a kind of amaranth collected from a small farm in Ecuador in 1979.
It also included the first seeds from Tajikistan — a small mountainous slice of the former Soviet Union, just north of Afghanistan.
To find out more about those seeds, I called Alexey Morgounov. He's a Russian who now lives in Turkey,and works for the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.
When you go to Tajikistan, Morgounov says, you'll see something you can't find most other places: farmers still planting and harvesting the same kinds of wheat that their ancestors have grown for thousands of years.
"People don't want to give up growing them," he says, because they know that those traditional varieties of wheat are the key to making bread with exactly the taste and texture that they want.
Homemade bread, from homegrown wheat, is the centerpiece of life in Tajikistan, Morgounov says. People there get half of all their calories from it.
And when they leave home, they like to take some along with them.
"They always bring this homemade bread to me," he says. "They take a plane from Duchanbe to Istanbul, with Turkish Airlines, and they know that there is breakfast, and drinks, and bread. They still take some flat breads, just in case."
In a previous post about a new sturgeon farming operation in the unlikely locale of Abu Dhabi, this blog asked "if you build it, will they spawn?" While the jury may be out about the economic viability of raising caviar-producing fish in the Arabian desert (indoors, no less), an article from this Saturday's New York Times makes it clear that sturgeon farming -- much of it taking place far from the Caspian, caviar's traditional source -- is becoming a global phenomenon. From the article:
Caviar might be perceived as one of the world’s most exclusive products, but its production is expanding far and fast.
In countries as divergent as China, Finland, Spain and the United Arab Emirates, new sturgeon farms are starting to fill the void left by the depleted stock of wild beluga and other species of sturgeon from the Caspian Sea, the traditional source of caviar.
As the new farms emerge, they hope to change the dynamics of caviar, popularizing the product while at the same time expanding production and sales.
First, though, they will have to convince consumers that caviar produced somewhere other than the Caspian is not a luxury knockoff.
Unlike Champagne, caviar is not a brand name; in fact, many other types of fish eggs other than sturgeon are also sold as caviar. The luxury cachet has come in large part from Russian and Iranian caviar producers, who have successfully sold the image of black caviar from Caspian sturgeon as the only true product.
Despite the worldwide financial crisis, caviar is among a select group of luxury goods that has weathered the downturn in consumer spending, maintaining a wholesale price of about 1,000 euros a kilogram ($590 a pound) for most varieties.
The Caspian Sea has long meant many things to many people, but one Azeri scientist is now claiming that the brackish body of water could serve as an irrigation source for his country's farmers. In fact, says the scientist, the Caspian's salty water is the "most fitting in the world" for irrigation. From a recent article in the News.Az website:
The scientific and production unit “Azerbaijan hydrotechnics and melioration” has developed recommendations to fight land degradation though nontraditional irrigation with sea water based on 30 years of studies.
According to the unit’s lab chief Seyfulla Amirov, for its chemical composition, water from the Caspian Sea is the most fitting in the world for irrigation of dry lands, subjected to moderate and severe degradation.
'During the studies we held at an experimental area in Absheron, we used salty water taken from the Caspian Sea to irrigate watermelons and decorative plants. The results of this study exceeded all expectations. We got a very good crop and trees grow wonderfully well.
As a result of the studies we came to a conclusion that by irrigation with salty water taken from the Caspian Sea we can raise productivity of dry lands, subjected to moderate desertion in the Absheron peninsula. Thus, it will be possible to raise the area covered with green plantation in the Absheron peninsula. Thus, we will be able to create more favorable conditions for development of tourism in Baku and its suburbs', Amirov said.
It's not clear how Mr. Amirov's claims square with those made in another article on the News.Az website, which reports that some 30 percent of Azeri farmland is in danger of becoming unusable because of too much salt in the soil, the result of improper irrigation techniques. Article here.
Can a type of mushroom grown in Turkey's Anatolian heartland help fight cancer and Alzheimer's? Some Turkish scientists apparently believe so. From Hurriyet:
A study led by Muğla University has claimed that certain kinds of fungi from Anatolia may have a curing effect on lung cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
Associate Professor Mehmet Duru said the study was focused on testing types of non-poisonous Anatolian fungi for possibly treating certain types of cancer, as well as Alzheimer’s disease. Duru said the results have been significant.
"We have discovered that under lab conditions, the matters with which we have been testing completely destroyed lung cancer cells and were much more effective than any other existing cancer medications," said Duru.
The fungi types at hand were also stated to have an effect on slowing down the progress of Alzeimer’s disease.
The rest of the article can be found here. And while it may not fight disease, keme -- another fungus that grows in Anatolia -- is a springtime staple in southeastern Turkish kitchens and kebab houses. A bit more on keme (the "Mesopotamian Truffle" as some call it) here.
Central Asia's Aral Sea used to be a fisherman's paradise. Today the body of water has shriveled up almost completely, with former fishing villages now finding themselves some 20 kilometers from the waterfront. In Kazakhstan, an effort is underway, though, to restock the that country's portion of the with fish and revive the local fishing industry. From an article in The Ecologist:
It is jarring to drive on what was once the Aral Sea. The Ecologist is en route to see the Kok-Aral Dam, some three-hours from Aral City on the border between the North and South Aral Sea and the delta of the Syr Darya River. The desertified sea bed is now home to camels and horses, grazing lazily on bits of grass. A couple of ships lie stranded along the drive, but the fabled ship cemeteries have gone, the victims of looting for scrap metal.
Once the water comes into to view, it isn't the rich wetland ecosystem it once was, but there are now signs of life returning. A few herons, ducks, storks and seagulls can be seen along the shoreline.
Already the Kok-Aral dam has provided a lease on life for the nearby villages. Water levels, which originally were 53 metres above Baltic Sea level, and at the lowest, 38 metres, have now increased to 42 metres above Baltic Sea level. Salinity has decreased 5 times, which has enabled 7 fish species to return, and fish catch has increased 10-12 times.
The Ecologist visits a small fish processing centre near Karaterren village. Along with flounder, there is carp, pike perch, and catfish all caught on the day using small motor boats. Batyrkhan Brekeev, a fisherman and the son and the father of fishermen, recently returned to fishing after years as a 'businessman'.
In a previous post about a new sturgeon farming operation in the unlikely locale of Abu Dhabi, this blog asked "if you build it, will they spawn?" Well, according to a new article in the New York Times, the answer to that question seems to be "and how!," especially if the fish are housed in what the story describes as "the piscine version of five-star luxury."
From the Times:
From hatchery to harvest, the pricey fish are coddled in the piscine version of five-star luxury. Food robots dispatch brine shrimp for the newly hatched and dry feed for the older fish at synchronized times. Water in the tanks is recycled through a triple-filtration system at least 20 times a day.
A computerized monitoring system makes sure temperatures remain between 59 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit (15 and 20 degrees Celsius), depending on where the fish is in its life cycle. Should anything go awry, a control room in Germany is alerted and text alerts immediately appear on the cell phones of those on shift in Abu Dhabi.
“If you don’t have good fish, they will not give you anything,” said Muhaned Abu Awad, the plant’s production manager. “You have to pamper the fish.”
Abu Dhabi’s taste for caviar has grown alongside its economic prowess.
While Russian and other European expatriates are the biggest customers locally, Emiratis and other Gulf residents are increasingly seeking out the roe, which can cost as much as $9 a gram, as a symbol of their wealth.
Royal Caviar also sees its location in the Gulf as a strategic advantage in servicing the booming appetites for the newly wealthy in Far East markets, especially those in China.