What Is The Oldest Fruit In The World? [Top 15 In History]

Fruits have been an essential part of the human diet since ancient times. Archaeological evidence shows that our ancestors have been collecting and cultivating fruits for tens of thousands of years. Some of the oldest fruits known to humankind are still popular today. While most modern produce has been extensively cross-bred, a few ancient fruits remain relatively unchanged.

Uncovering the origins of the oldest fruits provides a fascinating glimpse into the historic diets and agriculture of early human civilizations. Tracing the origins and ancestry of our food reveals key insights about the evolution of human nutritional needs and tastes. Below is our list of 15 of the world’s oldest fruits, along with a look at the history behind each remarkable plant.

1. Figs – Cultivated Over 11,000 Years Ago

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Figs have been an important food source for thousands of years, with evidence of cultivation dating back over 11,000 years. The edible fig tree likely originated in the Middle East or western Asia. Remains of figs have been found in excavations of Neolithic sites in the Jordan Valley, dating back as far as 9400-9200 BC.

Figs were a staple crop in ancient Egypt and popularized by the Greeks and Romans. They were revered in the Bible and other ancient texts for their sweetness and medicinal properties. The fig has played a vital role in the development of agriculture and human civilization.

2. Dates – Cultivated For At Least 7000 Years

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The date palm may have originated around the Persian Gulf. It was cultivated in ancient Mesopotamia as early as 4000 BC.

The ancient Egyptians used the fruits to make date wine, and dates appear in ancient Greek and Roman texts. Pictures of date palms appear on ancient Egyptian artifacts and ancient Babylonian temples. Dates were prized by early civilizations for their sweet taste and nutritional value. They remain an important crop in North Africa and the Middle East today.

3. Olives – First Cultivated Over 6000 Years Ago

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Some of the earliest evidence of olive cultivation was found in Syria dating back to 5000 BC. Olives were grown in Crete by 3000 BC and in Greek settlements of the Mediterranean by 2000 BC.

The olive tree provided food, olive oil for cooking, medicine, and wood. Greek mythology associated olive trees with the goddess Athena. Olives and olive oil were important trade commodities in ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, and Phoenicia. Today olives and olive oil are integral parts of Mediterranean cuisine and praised for numerous health benefits.

4. Pomegranate – Cultivated Since Ancient Times

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The pomegranate is native to modern-day Iran and the Himalayas in northern India. It was cultivated over millennia across the Middle East, South Asia, and Mediterranean region.

Pomegranates were revered in ancient Greek mythology and Buddhism. Images of pomegranates adorn ancient Iranian architecture and artifacts. They were prized by ancient civilizations for their striking blossoms, sweet-tart flavor, medicinal properties, and symbolic values. The pomegranate remains an essential fruit in Iranian, Indian, and Middle Eastern cuisine today.

5. Grapes – A Historical Food Source

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Grapes were likely one of the earliest fruits domesticated by humans. They were grown as early as 6000 BC in the Southern Caucasus region and Mesopotamia. Ancient Egyptians cultivated grapes along the Nile Delta around 4000 BC.

Grapes migrated to Europe and became a staple crop of ancient Greece and Rome. Grapevines provided fruit, grape leaves for food preservation, and juicy grapes perfect for making ancient wines. Grape cultivation allowed early civilizations to produce the first wines, playing a major role in trade, economics, and culture.

6. Apple – Wild Origins and Ancient History

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The ancestor of the domestic apple is the wild apple native to Central Asia. Apples may have been collected and traded thousands of years before organized cultivation began, as far back as 6500 BC.

Ancient accounts of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome document apple cultivation. Apple varieties were improved through selection and grafting techniques in Asia and Europe. Apples were later introduced to North America by European colonists. The apple has been a major part of human culture, cuisine, and agriculture for millennia.

7. Banana – Cultivated in Asia Over 4,000 Years Ago

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The banana originated in the Indomalayan region of Asia, possibly Malaysia or Indonesia. Banana cultivation dates back to at least 3,000 BC in New Guinea.

Early banana cultivation occurred in Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent around 2500 BC. Bananas were an important crop for ancient civilizations. Alexander the Great encountered bananas in India in 327 BC. Bananas later spread to Madagascar, the Middle East, and East Africa. Spanish explorers introduced bananas to the Americas in the 1500s. Today, bananas are the most popular fruit crop worldwide.

8. Mango – Ancient Origins in South Asia

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The mango is native to the Indian subcontinent, where it has been cultivated for over 4000 years. By 400-500 AD, mangoes were cultivated in East Asia. Early Portuguese explorers introduced mangoes to Africa in the 1500s and later to Brazil. Mangoes first arrived in the Americas during the 17th century.

The mango remains important in tropical cuisine across South Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, the Caribbean, and beyond. Its unique flavor and nutritional benefits have made it a prized component of the diet for millennia.

9. Coconut – Cultivated For Over 3500 Years

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The coconut palm likely originated in the South Pacific region. Early coconuts have been found in archaeological sites dating back over 3500 years in India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia.

Coconuts were spread by ancient mariners traveling the Indian Ocean trade routes. Coconuts became important crops in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and East Africa. Every part of the coconut palm has been utilized, including fruit, leaves, fiber, timber, and sap. The flavorful coconut and coconut milk remain essential ingredients in tropical cuisines around the world.

10. Citron – One of the Most Ancient Citrus Fruits

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The citron is an ancient citrus fruit that originated in the Himalayan foothills and Southeast Asia. It was one of the first fruits domesticated in Asia and cultivated in China around 4000 BC.

Citron made its way west via ancient trade routes, arriving in the Mediterranean region around 100 AD. The ancient Greeks and Romans prized citron for its medicinal properties. Citron is described in ancient Jewish texts and art and appears in ancient Sanskrit legends. While not as widely eaten today, citron remains an important cultural fruit and the earliest ancestor of modern citrus.

11. Elderberry – A Historic Medicinal Fruit

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Elderberries have a very long history of medicinal and culinary use across North Africa, Europe, and Western Asia. They are one of the oldest known medicinal plants, with evidence of gathering since the Stone Age. Hippocrates, the ancient Greek “Father of Medicine,” described elderberry remedies.

Elderberries were revered by Celtic and Native American cultures. Medieval Europeans consumed them as food and medicine. Current research confirms substantial vitamin C content and antioxidants. The elderberry remains important for its concentrated nutrition, unique flavor, and cold and flu remedies.

12. Tamarind – A Tropical Fruit Historically Prized

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The tamarind tree is native to tropical Africa, particularly Sudan. It has been cultivated worldwide in tropical regions for over 4000 years. Tamarinds were grown in ancient Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula and arrived in India over 2500 years ago. They were prized by medieval Persian and Arab physicians for medicinal properties.

Tamarind arrived in Mexico with the Spanish and traveled to Asia and the Pacific. Tamarind pulp is integral to cuisines from India to Latin America to Africa. It provides a unique sweet-sour taste, along with nutrition and digestive benefits.

13. Blackberry – Gathered From Ancient Wild Brambles

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Archaeological evidence shows prehistoric humans ate wild blackberries dating back over 10,000 years. The ancestors of today’s grown blackberries are native to Europe, western Asia and northwest Africa. Ancient Celtic societies celebrated the blackberry’s harvest.

The Greeks and Romans cultivated some of the earliest tamed blackberry bushes. Blackberries became popular fruits in Europe and arrived in North America with colonists. The wild brambles provided readily available nutrition and inspired early cultivation. The blackberry remains beloved for its deep purple color and one-of-a-kind sweet, tart flavor.

14. Pear – First Cultivated In Ancient China

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Pears originated in central Asia and the Tian Shan mountain range. The world’s oldest known pear tree still stands in China today, dating back over 3000 years. Pears were first cultivated in China around 2000 BC. Ancient Chinese texts praised their flavor and texture.

Pears later spread from central Asia to the Mediterranean with Alexander the Great’s expeditions. Romans spread cultivation across Europe. Asian pear varieties differ from European pears. However, in ancient times the Chinese and Europeans independently found this nutrient-rich fruit to be worth cultivating.

15. Plum – Evidence Of Use Since Prehistoric Times

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Plums have been enjoyed since prehistoric times. They evolved from wild sloes native across Europe and western Asia. The earliest evidence of harvesting dates back 12,000 years in archaeological remains in Syria.

Plums were later cultivated from native sloes by ancient Europeans and Chinese. European plums were smaller and tarter, while Chinese plums were larger and sweeter. Plums were carried along trade routes to Ancient Rome and as far as Japan. Dried plums, or prunes, were popular for winter storage. Consumed fresh or dried, plums have long added their sweet-tart goodness to the human diet.

The History and Significance of Ancient Fruits

This look at 15 of the world’s oldest fruits reveals how they helped sustain ancient civilizations over thousands of years and across continents. The labor-intensive processes of selection, cultivation, propagation, and spread transformed wild plants into staple foods. While fruits fall in and out of favor over time, these ancient edibles remain key parts of regional cuisines and world culture.

Tracing fruit origins provides insight into the diets and health of our ancestors. Sweet, nutritious fruits were prized to supplement cultivated grains and vegetables. The early medicinal uses of fruits also shaped remedies and health practices. The globalization of fruits followed trade routes pivotal to the exchange of goods and ideas. The history of fruit reveals key chapters in the development of agriculture, commerce, culture, and technology.

While we owe the diversity of fruits we enjoy today to centuries of cultivation, these original wild species remained unchanged for millennia before human intervention. The oldest fruits connect us to the environments and civilizations of the past in a unique, tasty way. They also bear witness to fruits’ enduring impact through their lasting flavors and meanings passed down generation after generation.

Each fruit in this list has a distinctive significance. Figs sustained early Mediterranean societies. Dates enabled desert agriculture. Olives became a cultural icon. Pomegranates figure prominently in mythology. Grapes changed trade and culture. Apples symbolized knowledge and sin. Bananas fed armies and empires. Mangoes inspired legends and poetry. Every part of the coconut palm served human needs. Citron launched a global citrus industry. Elderberries healed communities. Tamarind added a tropical tang. Wild blackberries sustained gatherers globally. Pears and plums spread along the Silk Road.

Today these ancient fruits remain on our tables, enriching cuisines and cultures worldwide. They represent the efforts and ingenuity of farmers throughout history who saw potential in a wild fruit and found ways to grow orchards full.

Although we continue improving fruits to yield more produce with each harvest, these time-tested originals remind us of what has long nourished humankind and why fruits remain essential to our lives. The humble fig, date, olive, and all the rest reveal an unexpected global heritage just by providing their unique tastes and nourishing antioxidants whenever we take a bite.

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