A pilot study found that an unfashionable dessert apple which dates back to Victorian times had ten times more of a disease-preventing chemical than its newer, shiny-skinned equivalents.
A team of scientists from Unilever in England will now undertake a three-year study, examining older varieties of apples, bananas, onions, mangos and teas.
They have already found that the Egremont Russet apple, which is often used to make cider, contains considerably more phloridzin than modern glossy fruits.
The chemical increases the absorption of sugar from the digestive system into the blood, and can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
The scientists believe ‘pre-domesticated’ fruit and veg eaten in years gone by had higher levels of hundreds of chemicals that help prevent disease. These include salicylates, which are used to make aspirin and play a key role in fighting cancer.
Today, some mass-produced fruits and vegetables are stored for months at a time in cold conditions to slow the ripening process. This process depletes the vitamins in the skin.
In addition, supermarkets select the best-looking stock when, in fact, plants produce more nutritious chemicals if they have bruises, as these are produced as a defence mechanism against threats.
Professor Leon Terry from Cranfield University said a ‘paradigm shift’ was required to promote foods based on their health-boosting properties, not their appearance.