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Tomatoes: Taste? Or Color?

Why does a commercial tomato not taste as great as a homegrown heirloom?

Garden TomatoesIt’s no secret that most commercially grown tomatoes taste lousy. Now scientists have discovered the reason: a gene mutation, the one bred into tomatoes to yield consistent color. It seems that tomato breeders discovered the gene about 70 years ago and began to cross-breed it into nearly all commercial tomatoes so that they would have an attractive red color. There was just one problem. Adding the redness gene “turned-off” flavor genes, the ones that created more sugars and carotenoids, various compounds in the tomato that contribute to flavor. The result? Tomatoes that look good but taste like paper. Here’s the abstract of the studies that determined the effects of the “redness” gene. Now we’d like to see the marketing studies that motivated commercial growers to think consumers prefer perfect red fruits without regard to taste.

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It’s worth reading the comments at the end of the article to hear people lamenting about the lost flavor of the tomatoes of their youth. Or how the tomatoes they grow, or buy from small, organic farmers, may have streaks of green and be misshapen… but taste great. At its end, the article reveals the secret to getting great-tasting tomatoes: “But, Dr. Powell said, there is a way around the issue. Heirloom tomatoes and many wild species do not have the uniform ripening mutation.” This seems to be one of those examples of scientists — and in this case, commercial tomato growers — learning something those of us who garden or buy produce at farmers’ markets already knew. Ready heirloom growers? On the count of three: We told you so.

7 Responses to “Tomatoes: Taste? Or Color?”

  1. doccat5 on January 28th, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    It is amusing to watch the reaction of those who have never eaten a home grown tomato. The look on their face when that flavor hits their taste buds is priceless.

  2. Reynardine on March 23rd, 2014 at 6:25 pm #

    I have had to remind many a recipient of home-grown produce that a good tomato blushes from the bottom up.

  3. Joyce on March 23rd, 2014 at 9:53 pm #

    Definetly taste!!

  4. Pam on June 16th, 2014 at 3:12 pm #

    It amazes me to hear people say they don’t like tomatoes. That just tells me they’ve never tasted a real one!

  5. Barbara on July 22nd, 2014 at 5:20 pm #

    My grandmother grew the best tomatoes. As a kid I couldn’t eat enough of them. I am 67 now and have not found tomatoes like hers. The ones you buy now have a nice color, but are tasteless. Sometimes I buy some that say vine ripened, they may smell sort of like true home grown tomatoes but are completely tasteless. People who have not tasted a good tomato don’t know what they are missing.

  6. thmpick on August 21st, 2017 at 8:36 pm #

    I am 65 and was raised out of quart jars. We started raising a garden when I was 6 years old and never ate a store bought tomato until I was in my mid twenties and had moved away from home. From my first store tomato, I’ve always referred to store tomatoes as “Cardboard Tomatoes” because they were void of taste…tasted like cardboard and felt like a semi moist filler. in my mouth. As the text above points out, there are many today that have never tasted a home grown tomatoes…that saddens me to the “N”th degree.

  7. Naomi on April 25th, 2018 at 3:14 pm #

    I can’t taste a difference in tomatoes.. It isn’t that I’ve not tasted a “good” tomato. I grew up in Nebraska where my mother grew a garden full of beautiful, well composted, vine ripened tomatoes in the 1960’s and 1970’s.. I don’t hate them. I just can’t tell any difference in the taste of store tomatoes and garden tomatoes. They taste a little like grass and have a bit of a watery/slimy texture. My father may have been the same, he could take them or leave them but usually ate them after sprinkling sugar on them. They are fine as salsa or marinara, but really just a vehicle for the herbs and spices. Is there anyone else out there like me? Is it genetic?