Trivia

Hard

The Bland Flavor Of Modern Tomatoes Is A Side Effect Of Breeding Them To Produce?

Quick Ripening
Long Shelf Life
Higher Vitamin Count
Uniform Color
A basket of fresh tomatoes at a local supermarket.
Heavybluesman/Wikimedia

Answer: Uniform Color

Most people would describe the off-the-shelf tomatoes they pick up at their local supermarket as, well, bland. Even among people that like tomatoes, none are declaring that tomatoes are the most flavorful and dynamic of the fruits and vegetables they eat. But why? What made the mass produced tomatoes found across America so bland? More specifically, why are tomatoes in other countries and “heirloom” tomatoes so flavorful by comparison?

For years, researchers tried to narrow it down in pursuit of a better tasting tomato. Was it because they were picked too soon, picked too late, or shipped and stored for too long? Even when controlling for all those variables, the tomatoes still remained bland. It wasn’t until 2012 that researchers, led by Dr. Ann Powell from the University of California, Davis, and James J. Giovannoni of the United Stated Department of Agriculture Research Service, stumbled upon the key: color.

Specifically, the gene (a uniform ripening mutation) that had been so carefully nurtured through selective breeding to ensure that perfect and vibrant red that consumers expect from their tomatoes was also responsible for decreasing sugar production in the tomatoes and flat-lining their flavor profile. By breeding tomatoes to ripen so uniformly and to such a perfectly matching shade of red, farmers had inadvertently made them terribly bland.

So the next time you’re at a friend’s house and they offer you an odd looking tomato from their garden and insist you try it, put aside your opinions about tomatoes and give their most-certainly-more-flavorful heirloom tomato a chance.

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