A new study says co-evolution could change condiments taste

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COLUMBIA -A new study from the University of Missouri and the Stockholm University could change how some of your favorite condiments taste.

The researchers said a co-evolution relationship between Brassicales plants (cabbage, broccoli and kale) and butterflies could potentially create stronger, pest-resistant plants.

Chris Pires, associate professor of biological sciences at the Bond Life Sciences Center, said the research found plants were in what he called "an arms race" with the insects to fend them off.

"We actually identified which specific glucosinolates evolve over evolutionary time, and more importantly how the butterflies have reacted to that defense," he said.

Through these findings, Pires said researchers are trying to find ways to have this arms race benefit plants.

"So one thing we're hoping to do, by being able to identify these genes, is how we could improve either the flavor of condiments, like mustard, or make plants that can better defend themselves from cabbage butterflies," he said.

The new compounds created from the co-evolution process, called glucosinolates, create sharp flavors as a defense mechanism for plants to ward off insects and pests.

Glucosinolates, where mustard and horseradish gets its strong flavor from, is toxic to insects. Pires said cabbage butterflies are able to detoxify the plant's defense mechanisms.

"So we're not sure what the future is going to hold for the taste of mustard, but we do know that it is going to change, and so we'll have to see the results of the arms race is to find out what the future mustard on your hot dog will taste like," he said.

Researchers found the co-evolution process could also provide ways to have better food production.

"So when we talk about better food production we're talking about two things, it can either enhance or change the flavor of condiments. And second, we can create plants that are more resistant to insect pests," he said.

Jeff Spencer, owner of Just Jeff's Hot Dog Stand, said the finding might not affect his business or customers.

"The environmental things that are happening I don't think are going to change it enough to make a difference in the taste," he said.

He said if the change would make a significant difference on the mustards he use, he might need to change the way he makes his hot dogs.

"I sell Chicago hot dogs, and that's the only condiment they want. You can't even put ketchup on it. If it does change the taste of mustard then I'll have to change the hot dog," he said.

But he truly believes his customers won't notice the difference in the first place.