Tomato wine, tiger milk, and mini macadamias: Crops to mitigate water declines in future drought-striken areas

Some ideas that I’ll never get around to. I mentioned this in another thread, but I think it deserves one of its own. It’s kind of U.S.-centric, but might have applications elsewhere.

Tomato wine:

In light of the impending damage to the wine industry caused by the spotted lanternfly, tomatoes are an excellent replacement. Here’s why:

  1. The result is very close to typical white wine from grapes. I’ve made 15 gallons of the stuff, which isn’t a huge sample size, but I <3 my liver. There’s no tomato taste at all, and flavor is enhanced by adding tannins (tea bags, oak leaves, etc.). @screedius

  2. There’s huge unexplored potential for genetic improvement to enhance yield, flavor, nutrition value, etc. Someone will probably steal this idea, make a few GMOs and patent the whole thing, but hey, welcome to capitalism. Just let me drive the tractor during harvest time and all will be forgiven.

    A crack-resistant determinate variety with high sugar content, disease resistance, anthocyanins, and high flavinoid content would be ideal.

  3. Time from planting to harvest is much faster, and yields are much larger. Yes, tomatoes are a resource-intensive crop, but so are grapes, and because tomatoes have a wider tolerance range of soil and environmental conditions, they could shift wine production out of the drought-stricken western U.S. and into, say, Appalachia, which will see a precipitation increase in the future.

    A good grape harvest is 5 tons an acre. A good tomato harvest is >40 tons an acre. Of course you have to factor in different amounts of irrigation, fertilizer, etc., but I’d wager that tomatoes are less resource-intensive than grapes. @lordcaravan

  4. Diverting tomato juice for wine production can increase the efficiency of the production of other tomato products. Sauce, paste, etc.

Tiger milk:

An almond milk replacement. It’s no secret that almond production uses godawful amounts of water, yet there’s a highly productive competitor waiting in the wings: Tiger nuts, A.K.A., chufas. Cyperus esculentus. Tiger nuts + water + blender = tiger milk. The benefits:

  1. It has extremely high caloric yield per acre, plus, time from planting to harvest is short, so one can harvest multiple plantings a year.

    The potential for intercropping is excellent. Duckweed, in particular, would be a prolific, high protein companion that could at minimum serve as high quality livestock feed.

  2. It’s a perennial with a wider geographic range and hardiness. This is a wetland plant and would thus be resource intensive depending on where it’s grown (keep in mind that it produces more calories per acre than, ahem, rice), however, that’s mitigated by the aforementioned intercropping, and the following:

  3. Integrated agro-filtration of water. Nutrient runoff is probably the biggest source of pollution on the planet. What’s a natural filter that removes those nutrients from the system? Wetlands. Why not eat the results?

  4. This is an unimproved crop with huge genetic potential.

  5. Charlie Sheen can be our spokesman!

“Mini macadamias:”

Imagine a small nut that tasted very much like a macadamia, with a much thinner, easier to crack shell, that grew in drought-striken areas with poor soils and no irrigation. Not only that, but it would grow in the continental U.S., with a much wider hardiness/geographic range than genuine macadamias, making it a competitor to resource-intensive domestic almond production, but to macadamia imports as well. Like the others, it’s an unimproved crop, with unexplored genetic potential.

Its name is yellowhorn, Xanthoceras sorbifolium.

No, it’s not native to the U.S., but just review my posts here to get my thoughts on that aspect:

I think it’s well worth it.

Need I also mention that they grow well on relatively steep slopes? Again, seems like a good fit for Appalachia, which is ironically an economically depressed region due to the decline of coal/fossil fuels, generally speaking.


What does it taste like?

Oh darn, and here I was hoping that I’d get the chance to sample milk from Panthera tigris. Oh well …


your biggest challenge will be to get people to accept replacement crops/products for things that are widely accepted and culturally relevant.

part of it is marketing, and there are plenty of examples of failed attempts to get people to accept new crops. part of it is from bad marketing. and part of that is from people refusing to abandon their widely accepted and culturally relevant foods.

honestly I think it’s going to be enough of a challenge getting people to be flexible enough to try new growing regions for existing crops. In places like France and Italy and such, it’s going to be extremely difficult for farmers who have had grapes or olives or whatnot on their land for generations to change to something else that might grow better in the new conditions because of that cultural relevance.

Me, I’m not really interested in wine from tomatoes. There are many other things I’d choose to drink before that.


the holy grail for saving water in agriculture is developing a commercially viable C4 rice. it probably wouldn’t be quite as significant as the Haber-Bosch process back in the day, but it would be up there.

this is regulated as a noxious weed in the US in the states that border the Pacific. so without changing some of the laws, you wouldn’t be able to grow it on a commercial scale in California to replace the almond industry there. that said, i’m not sure you would want to introduce that as a crop in the US. my experience with it is that it can be one of those forever weeds in human spaces (gardens, crop fields), and even if you could grow it in a field as a crop, i’m not sure if your farmer neighbors growing other things would look kindly upon that, if they knew you were growing these. talk to a US gardener about growing “nutsedge”, and you’ll see them looking back at you as if you were crazy.

on a commercial scale, i think tomatoes are shifting towards being grown in giant greenhouses nowadays. so there’s a huge upfront cost to growing tomatoes this way. in many ways, this creates a dynamic where folks with deep pockets go to places that are relatively more poor to build these greenhouses. when you grow tomatoes in a greenhouse, you can use much less water to produce one tomato, but you can produce a lot more tomatoes. so the result for the place that is growing them in terms of water usage ends up being roughly the same. instead of letting the water evaporate in the fields, you’re exporting that water out in the form of tomatoes. you could say that, well, at least they get money for their troubles, but the money is going to fill the deep pockets of the investors who live who knows where, not the folks living in the area.


Some really cool ideas. I live in Phoenix- one little weed that pops up during the summers is common purslane. I believe it used both C4 and CAM photosynthesis which makes it quite hardy during dry summers. It makes for a pretty nice set of greens if you clip them off.


I’d be very curious to try tomato wine, tiger milk and mini macadamias. With those names you already have part of the marketing challenge well in hand! I would worry about promoting cultivation of nutsedge in areas where it could become a problem though.

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Forget Tiger milk

Cockroach milk is where its At!

These suggestions are awesome, I’d get all of them!

And hopefully make something that tastes more like red wine instead!

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I’m growing this in my garden this year! I haven’t done the full harvest yet, but the tubers I’ve dug up to sample were delicious. And it is growing well without even too much water - I planted it among my beans, and it’s making a great groundcover to retain moisture and keep the soil cool. It seems to be growing just fine with the amount of water I normally give the beans.

It’s also extremely high in oil, so it has a big potential as an oilseed crop.

This is something I’ve never heard of, and am going to add to my list immediately!

Look up Joseph Lofthouses’ work with tomato breeding, if you’re not familiar already. The modern “tomato” is just a tiny subset of a tiny subset - the plants that happened to be grown by the particular indigenous people contacted by the spaniards, happened to survive going to Europe and being grown there, and happened to survive being transported to north america and being grown here too. Saying you know what tomatoes are like from trying one of them is like saying you know citrus because you had a key lime pie once. Even the more diverse-seeming heirloom tomatoes still come from this very limited pool.

He’s been working on creating a breeding stock mix with as many wild tomato ancestors mixed in as possible, and the results are crazy. I’ve been growing some of his seeds this year, and some of the tomatoes taste more like tropical fruit than tomato.

Here’s a few of my thoughts on the matter of water usage:
I know it’s probably not achievable, but if we actually want to reduce water usage we’ll need to encourage more small-scale growing and eliminate massive ag monocultures. Sustainable, water-saving techniques and crops are not difficult, they’re just not suitable for mechanized harvests and there therefore ignored.

My vegetable garden needs very little water, to the point that we were away for 4 days during 110F heat and <10% humidity, and nothing was even wilted when we returned. And I’m even growing some corn, which is a notorious water guzzler.

But it took a lot of careful planning, soil prepping, and dense interplanting to reach this stage.

We excavated trenches around the entire edge of the garden bed to a depth of several feet, and filled the bottom half with chunks of logs and large branches before replacing the soil. As these decompose, they act as mini aquifers, and store water that the plants can access. Ever rolled over a rotten log in the forest and noticed how many roots were embedded into the wood? This is why.

We also have a firm “no exposed soil” rule - if it’s not being covered by a plant, it needs to be covered with straw or leaf mulch. Paths are covered in 6 inches or so of woodchips. This helps retain moisture, eliminate soil loss, and prevent weeds.

We also use sunken beds - the planting areas are slightly lower than the surrounding ground, so water pools there and doesn’t run off. Most commercial ag uses raised rows, which are easier to harvest but have horrible runoff problems.

The result? Our 15x20 community garden plot produces far more food than my partner and I could ever use, and we’re constantly giving things away. We grow most of our own spices, including ginger, turmeric, and safflower. We pick about 20 pounds of tomatoes a week, 10 or so in beans, have tree collards with 3-inch-thick trunks, and the corn just hit 15 feet high. And we have an insane population of pollinator insects and birds hanging out all the time as well.

All that just to say, drought-tolerant plants are important but technique is even more so, and current commercial ag strategies are probably not sustainable even with better crops.

But for your list, here’s a few other crop ideas to add:

Caigua - Cyclanthera pedata - it’s a vine that produces small fruit that taste like slightly peppery summer squashes. You can chop them and add them to any vegetable dish when they’re small, or they turn hollow when they’re large and you can stuff them like peppers. Insanely productive, absolutely fine with hot weather, can be planted in terrible soil and doesn’t need much water when established. Also the bees go absolutely nuts for the flowers.

Tamarillo - a perennial solanum, has fruit that tastes like a combo of tomato and bell pepper. It’s frost sensitive, but grows OK in my garden in california. Since it’s a perennial, it needs relatively little care once established, though it does like a bit more water than some of the others.

Mulberries - these grow like weeds, literally. Non-fruiting ones are constantly used for shade trees, but the fruiting ones produce insane quantities of fruit with very little effort. The problem is that they’re fragile and mold quickly, so hard to transport. In places like Turkey they just set up big cauldrons in the orchard and process them on-site into a molasses-like sweetener.

Canna lily - often used as an ornamental, but generally overlooked as a potential food crop. Easy to grow, has big starchy potato-like roots, and looks gorgeous to boot.

Dahlias - most people don’t even know these are edible. Usually bred for looks over taste, but there’s a huge potential food crop there.

There’s also a large number of perennial grasses that could be farmed as grain crops. Once they have established root systems there would be virtually no need to water them at all, because they have roots than can get 10 or 15 feet deep.

Here’s a nice little list of some more underutilized crops:
and PFAF keeps an enormous database of plants with food crop potential:

Sorry for writing a whole novella here, but this is one of my more passionate interests. Given the rise of plant pathogens accompanying global warming, we’re dancing on the edge of disaster by depending so fully on the few crops we use.

According to Smithsonian, "three-quarters of Earth’s food supply draws on just 12 crops and five livestock species.:

Imagine what happens if we get a global pandemic of a crop disease, and lose one of those species? Yikes.


In New Mexico, I’ve started growing tepary beans and encouraging wild ground cherries in my xeriscape front yard. I also have two wolfberry bushes that are quite tasty. If we could find a way to make buffalo gourd edible, it is much hardier than zucchini and pumpkin vines.

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I sense a fellow permaculture/food forest aficionado here!


I’ve only had them in baked goods because they’re expensive. It’s not like walnut, almond, or pecan. It’s sort of buttery, no bitterness, with a little bit of a vanilla taste.

Definitely. These aren’t things I intend to do myself, just ideas that someone else might use. I can see how crops would be more culturally entrenched in Europe especially.

“Tomato wine” would indeed be difficult to sell. I don’t think normal food business models apply to the wine world.

It might be wise to not even call it wine and dub it a new beverage entirely. Maybe a multi-fruit drink that just happens to be 90% tomatoes, like V8.

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Didn’t know about the noxious weed designation. It’s already pretty common. USDA has it listed as both native and invasive in most states, which confuses me:

With chufas, because most of the U.S. population is on the east coast and everything almond is shipped in from the west coast, Texas, etc., growing them out east would cut almond demand, save some food miles, etc. Nutritionally, chufas don’t compare well to almonds, primarily because of vitamin E, but I don’t think most consumers would care, they’d just want a plant-based milk alternative.

There definitely need to be improvements in harvesting technology though, because that would be screen-based. Rocks would be a nightmare in the beginning.

*Yes and no to greenhouses. Most tomatoes grown for sale as whole, intact fresh fruit are definitely greenhouse territory, but the vast majority of those grown for processing/canning are determinate varieties grown outdoors with only irrigation and plastic mulch. No staking, etc.

Unfortunately, I don’t see big money going anywhere in ag. That’s why I want to drive the tractor, because otherwise it’d be a robot.

We just need somebody whose name starts with “D” to sell the nuts. :joy:

I’m not opposed to a roach farm, I’m just not sure what to do with the product outside of livestock feed.

I didn’t expect to hear that. Nice! Give some the blender treatment and let me know what the end result’s like. I assume that growing on a commercial scale would require sandy/silty soil, and the harvester would basically just scoop the soil and screen them out. From there, density could sort out the rocks, in a water tub.

Rabbit hole… :rabbit: I’ll definitely look into it, especially the ones that taste tropical. I’m a fan of varieties like black krim and gold medal, but the resulting wine tastes the same as it does using German johnson and red cherry types.

I’m definitely a fan of permaculture, or at least non-monocultures, edible landscaping, etc. And mulch. I <3 mulch.

I’ll add caigua to my list. Mulberries grow wild everywhere here. I like them, but they’re annoying to harvest because they’re so small, and the birds usually beat me to them. I like the idea of U-pick operations though, just not necessarily for trees.

Another dual purpose crop to consider (at least here in zone 6) would be ornamental alliums, the kind marketed for flower gardens. Multiple markets, perfectly edible, produce tons of seed, pollinator value, pest repellent/control properties, etc.

I know, right?

i think this is because one subspecies is considered native, but the others are not. unfortunately, i believe most of the ones grown in cultivation or which pop up as weeds in the US are the non-native subspecies.

As a follow-on dessert, Bird’s Milk is great too. An even stranger name considering that birds aren’t mammals…

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I wasn’t sure how people were going to respond to this topic since it didn’t really ask a question, but shared an idea. I’m glad @ameeds mentioned purslane and @naturalist_nate mentioned the hard sell aspect of a new crop. It would probably be easier than Mealworms for Dinner. A few more resources like the two in @graysquirrel’s comment above:

In my experience, the flavor scale for non-commercial foods is much wider than what most folks are used to and there’s also a wilderness-phobia that makes people afraid of eating non-commercial foods.

Then it’d be seen as a regular tomato juice.) Maybe hide the tomato part in the name entirely if it can affect the sales.

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