What is special about “heirloom” and “heritage” food?

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Just taking a bite of a fresh heirloom tomato will demonstate the answer to this question better than any paragraph on the internet, but the short answer is flavor.  The word “heirloom” tends to be applied to produce, while the word “heritage” is usually attached to meats and poultry.  Their exact definitions are a little hard to nail down, but essentially they are both labels for varieties of food that were selected for different reasons than most found in your grocery store.

Most widely available fruits and vegetables found in American supermarkets these days are designed to reliably grow in large quantities, last longer on the store shelves, and survive what can be a very long trip from the farm to the market.  American supermarket meats have been raised for fast growth and, in the case of pork and chicken, to be extremely lean.

Notice that the word “flavor” has not been mentioned once in the above paragraph.  On the other hand, heirloom tomatoes are significantly more fragile than the beefsteak or roma tomatoes most of us are used to.  They also spoil much faster and don’t look nearly as perfect.  But they taste fabulous.  Heirloom potatoes aren’t as convenient for farmers to grow, but their unusual flavors, colors, and textures are far superior to the ubiquitious russet. 

Heritage chickens can take much longer to raise and aren’t as plump, but they’re much more delicious than grocery store chickens.  Kurobuta pork and Mangalitsa pork have a higher fat content than conventional pork, but it’s much more delicious and less likely to dry out when cooking.

Heritage meats and heirloom produce also represent greater biodiversity in the food supply.  Encouraging farmers to raise them helps to create a food supply that is more resistant to diseases, in addition to being more exciting.

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