A Tomato Mystery Solved

I’m not sure about the rest of you, but ever since reading Barry Estabrook’s great book, Tomatoland, it takes quite a bit for me to eat a supermarket tomato.  I learned too much about the way commercial tomatoes are farmed and harvested–and about the way the workers who farm the fields are treated–to want to support that kind of agriculture.

So this time of year, when my home-grown tomato seedlings are racing up their stakes in my garden, I am just dying for the first taste of that warm, fresh from the vine fruit.  It scarcely matters that here in the northeast our season is much too short–isn’t that true for all fruits and vegetables?

Locally grown produce has a defined season no matter where you live and it always tastes better than the “trucked in” variety at the stores, even if it happens to be organic.

But researchers, writing in the journal Science (excerpted here and discussed more fully in a New York Times article here) have now discovered a flaw in the genetics of supermarket tomatoes (I know–just one, some of you may be asking?).  Actually, this “genetic accident” occurred when some weed genes were spliced in to help with the ripening.  In the process, the genes for sugar production were de-activated.  So no wonder so many of those commercially produced tomatoes taste like cardboard! (or, in the words of one story I read, they were described as “blander.”  That’s a nice way to put it!)

Tomatoes whose genes hadn’t been manipulated–like the “ugli ripe” are less likely to be “bland” and will be sweeter, as will the smaller fruited cherry and grape tomatoes which naturally have a much higher sugar content from the beginning.

Let’s hope this is the beginning of better supermarket tomatoes–for those still willing to eat them!

2 thoughts on “A Tomato Mystery Solved

  1. Bridget July 7, 2012 / 5:06 am

    Why can’t they just leave our food alone. It’s manages to feed us well up to now…but of course we all realise that corporations want to totally own all food production. Be independent…grow your own. From organic seeds of course.

  2. gardendaze July 7, 2012 / 11:00 am

    Oh I agree totally! It’s so scary over here. So much of our food is made from GMO ingredients and it doesn’t even have to be labeled that way.

    And yet when I tell folks I grow my own tomatoes from seed–and they’re heirloom varieties to boot–folks look at me as if I’ve just sprouted 3 heads because I’m not growing the same types they can buy in the grocery store. I can’t believe the number of people who grow ‘Jetstar’ which is a commercial variety. Why would you do that?

    But maybe they don’t know what a “real” tomato tastes like. In that case, it’s a little sad.


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