Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Tastier Tomatoes Could Be on the Way

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Tastier Tomatoes Could Be on the Way

Article excerpt

We are no slouches when it comes to eating tomatoes. In 2014, the average American ate 31.4 pounds of the fruit, according to Agriculture Department data; tomatoes, out of the most frequently consumed fruits and vegetables, were second only to potatoes. But we may not be so enthralled with the flavor of the fresh ones. (As it is, the majority of the tomatoes eaten are canned. For every two fresh tomatoes eaten, Americans ate three processed ones.)

Many are the lamentations of the fresh tomato fan: Supermarket tomatoes are bland, too big, flat in scent and regrettable in mouthfeel. They just don't sell tomatoes like they used to.

And yet the future grocer could hawk a tastier tomato, argued a new scientific dive into the genetics of tomato flavor. Agricultural researchers at the University of Florida, partnering with Chinese, Israeli and Spanish scientists, identified several dozen tomato chemicals that were "significantly correlated with flavor intensity, as they wrote Thursday in the journal Science.

Specifically, the scientists hunted for the best of what are called volatile compounds, the smelly organic chemicals that our olfactory systems are primed to sense. "The real excitement of food is what you smell, University of Florida professor Denise Tieman, the study's lead author, told the Los Angeles Times. "When you chew, these aroma compounds get into your olfactory systems and that's what really makes things taste good.

To that end, the scientists sequenced the genomes of 398 fruits: wild varieties and heirloom tomatoes, as well as modern, commercial types. They had a consumer panel evaluate the taste of 160 tomato samples, reflecting more than 100 varieties. Based on the consumer feedback, the researchers determined that "representative modern cultivars, such as Florida 47 and Flora-Dade, are not well liked even when grown using commercial practices and harvested when fully ripe. …

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