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Breeding Deliciousness – the Row 7 Seed Company

From seeds to flavours and new approaches to recipe creation

Started with a seed – literally, when it comes to Row 7. The project by chef Dan Barber, vegetable breeder Michael Mazourek, and seedsman Matthew Goldfarb changes the way we experience flavor. 

Where should the creation of a recipe start? To many chefs, that might be a flavour, a scent or even just a memory. To Dan Barber and his team at Row 7, it is a seed. The company believes in improving produce and creating extraordinary flavours even before a chef begins to work with them. 

What started as a challenge by #50BestTalks presented by Miele speaker Dan Barber for vegetable breeder Michael Mazourek to create “a better butternut” has now turned into a company and more importantly, a movement to change the way we eat and taste.

Unique flavours would not normally be the primary focus of breeders when growing vegetables; instead their concerns are towards more practical issues such as uniformity rather than creativity. The results are often produce that lack robust flavours and need to be further enhanced –where butter is added to potatoes for a creamier texture, or maple syrup to squash. 

So, the question lies - if there exists products that are intrinsically flavourful, is there still a need to further enhance the flavours? Row 7 takes this question to task, and reaches out to its community of breeders, chefs and food lovers to engage in a deeper conversation.

Beyond flavour – creating for the future

Although delicious flavours were the initial catalyst and objective of the project, Row 7 products offer a holistic approach to food and eating, taking into account sustainable and local production practices, healthy ways of eating and moving away from utility patents. 

All Row 7 seeds are organic which means that they are produced without chemicals, GMO, fertilizers or pesticides. The aim in this is to create more resilient plants whose strength is also reflected – of course – in their flavour. 

Flavour as evolution and constant change – that is another one of the company’s main principles. They therefore refuse utility patents, in order to encourage breeders from all around the world, to use their seeds as a start for their own projects. Adapting seeds to different environments or local taste preferences will only strengthen the impact of Row 7 to change the way we perceive flavour. 

As a company focused on plants, Dan Barber and his team are also committed to introducing healthy, nutrient-packed ingredients to our kitchens. Again, having flavour at its core brings the advantage that additional, less healthy ingredients can be omitted. Instead, the nutrients in the core vegetables receive room to thrive – in our taste system as well as the rest of our bodies.

Growing the seeds

As the name indicates, Row 7 has so far created 7 varieties, all produced in the US. They range from Butternut 661 and two more squashes to the Badger Flame Beet, the Upstate Abundance Potato, the 7082 Cucumber to the Habanada Pepper. 

On the Row 7 website, one can learn about how these varieties were created, where they were grown and of course purchase the seeds to grow them locally. These come with detailed instructions on seeding, transplanting, diseases, harvest and storage. 

Sharing unreservedly about the growth process of food also helps individuals to establish a very different relationship and understanding of what food can be beyond store shelves and ready-made dinner. The consumer becomes more involved earlier on in the supply chain and takes on a deeper vested interest in the creation of ingredients rather than just accepting them the way they are. 

But where do we go from there? How do we use these new flavours and ingredients? Row 7 shares its suggestions on that, too. Each ingredient is accompanied by cooking instructions in order to optimise its rich flavours. The company also shares simple, yet effective recipes. Some of them, such as the grilled 7082 Cucumber with Fried Dill, can also be enjoyed at Dan Barber’s restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York State. 

As a highly respected and admired chef on the World’s 50 Best list, Dan Barber sets a strong and impactful statement by committing himself to a mission of sustainability and taste revolution.  By implementing “his seeds” at his restaurant, Dan Barber and the Row 7 project comes full circle in the lifecycle of produce – and consumers can now be part of every step of the way!

Author: Franziska Winterling
Photos: © Johnny Autry