U.S. Produce May Pack More Punch Due to Drought

By Vickie Frantz, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
August 10, 2012; 7:46 PM
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Canteloupes picture is courtesy of Photos.com.

The drought impacting many agricultural areas in the U.S. may give certain fruits and vegetables a more intense flavor.

Due to the drought, certain fruits and vegetables, like peppers, onions, garlic, beets, tomatoes, peaches and melons, will grow with a lower-than-usual water content. The produce may be smaller, but the flavor is bigger.

In the case of chili peppers, this may bring unusual problems for restaurant chefs. Chili pepper hotness comes from the alkaloid capsaicin. Capsaicin binds to the heat receptors of the tongue causing the sensation of hot or spicy. When chili peppers grow with lower water levels, they produce more capsaicin and the pepper will taste hotter. When cooking with the hotter pepper, chefs may have to use less of the pepper to get the same degree of spice normally in the dish, according to Healthland.time.com.

On the opposite end of the taste spectrum, a watermelon's flavor is also affected by the water content. A low-water intake causes watermelon plants to become stressed. The stressed plant increases sugar production in response. A watermelon crop impacted by a lot of heat early in the growing cycle will taste sweeter, but the yield of the crop is diminished and the individual watermelons are usually smaller than average.

This picture of chili peppers hanging up to dry is courtesy of photos.com.

Greg Smith, owner of Smith Farms in Rocky Ford, Colo., has noticed an added sweetness in their cantaloupes. "Our cantaloupes are normally sweet, but they are especially sweet this year," Smith said.

Smith also commented on the weather's role in the growth of produce on the farm.

"The cantaloupe crop has been good, but the tomatoes are down, the watermelons are down, too," he said. "The temperatures this summer have been fierce. Temperatures have been 105, 107 and even 110. The high temperatures coupled with low rainfall hurt the production."

Smith's land is irrigated with water from the Arkansas River. The flow of water depends on snowmelt runoff from the Rocky Mountains. Smith said the low snow pack on the mountain is not providing the amount of water he normally gets.

In a normal growing season, Smith usually farms close to 100 acres of land. The drought this year has only allowed Smith to farm about half of his land.

If you love cantaloupe, be sure to visit one of the Smith Farm's Farmers Markets for some of the sweetest cantaloupe in the western U.S.

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