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Tasting Party In Portland Showcases Innovative Vegetable Breeding, New Varieties

Plant breeders, Northwest chefs and farmers are co-developing innovative new vegetables and grains. The bounty was sampled a tasting party in Portland Monday night.

Breeders and farmers brought in the best of this year's field trials, such as a very purple corn, improved carrots, a tamed wild tuber called groundnut and more flavorful parsley. The growers were paired with chefs such as Nora Antene of Le Pigeon in Portland. She whipped up a delectable parsley-flavored Italian ice to show off the difference.

"The flavor is really strong and really aromatic,” Antene said. “It just has a lot more floral notes than other parsleys I'd say... and just more intense."

The Oregon-based Culinary Breeding Network puts on this annual tasting party. Director Lane Selman said the idea is to bring more people into the conversation about which seeds and traits to commercialize.

"These decisions are largely made alone or with a very small farm crew,” Selman said.

The plant breeding on display at this showcase does not use genetic engineering, just conventional techniques of cross-pollinating related plants and selecting for desired traits.

The most popular new veggie varieties tend to show up first at farmers markets, in regional seed catalogs and at participating restaurants.

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.