How to make a tastier tomato A woman shops for tomatoes at a grocery store in Des Moines, Iowa. Scientists have cooked up a way to reintroduce a key ingredient into mass-produced tomatoes: taste. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
How to make a tastier tomato
Lexile

Bite into a supermarket tomato and you'll probably notice something missing: taste. Now scientists think they can put the yum back into the grocery tomato. They plan to tinker with its genetic recipe.
 
Researchers are reinstalling five long-lost genetic traits. These add much of the sweet-yet-acidic taste. Those traits had been bred out of mass-produced tomatoes for the past 50 years. The scientists are using mostly natural breeding methods, not genetic modification technology.
 
"We know what's wrong with modern tomatoes. And we have a pretty good idea how to fix it," said University of Florida horticultural scientist Harry Klee. He is co-author of a study. It appeared in the journal Science.
 
Yield of tomatoes has tripled since 1960. But there's been a slow decline in taste quality as tomatoes have been bred for size and sturdiness at the expense of flavor. Klee said a tastier supermarket tomato could be ready within three years.
 
"Nobody deliberately set out to make tomatoes that don't have flavor," Klee said. "Basically it was a process of neglect."
 
One key issue is size. Growers keep increasing individual tomato size and grow more per plant. The trouble is that there is a limit to how much sugar each tomato plant can produce. Bigger tomatoes and more of them means less sugar per tomato and less taste, Klee said.
 
So Klee and colleagues looked at the genomes of the mass-produced tomato varieties and heirloom tomatoes. The scientists want to try to help the grocery tomatoes catch up to their backyard garden taste.
 
Good tiny heirloom tomatoes "are like eating candy," said New York University nutrition professor Marion Nestle, who wasn't part of the study. "For people who care about how food tastes, it's a very big deal."
 
Klee isolated some sugar genes and ones that were more geared to pure taste. But he figured those won't work as well because they clash against growers' shipping and size needs. So he found areas that affect the aroma of tomatoes, but not size or heartiness. Reintroducing those into mass-produced tomatoes should work. This is because smell is a big factor in taste, he said.
 
Altering genes in a lab would make the process faster. But because of consumer distrust and regulations, Klee is opting for natural breeding methods - with help from an electric toothbrush to spread pollen. He's not quite there yet. But he is close.
 
Jose Ordovas is a nutrition professor at Tufts University. He applauds the work. But he cautions: "It is possible that some traits are not compatible and you cannot make the plant to behave exactly the way that you want."
 
Reggie Brown of growers' Florida Tomato Committee praised the study. He said it could help make supermarket tomatoes taste better.
 
No matter how much tinkering scientists do to mass-produced tomatoes, picking them too early and refrigerating them can make them bland. And consumers do have to be willing to pay more to have fresher, unrefrigerated tomatoes, said Klee. He generally doesn't do the taste testing in his lab.
 
"I don't like raw tomatoes very much at all. You know, I'm kind of tired of them," he said.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What's wrong with modern tomatoes?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (68)
  • connorm3-har
    2/10/2017 - 10:47 p.m.

    Modern tomatoes have all been genetically modified instead of natural breeding methods. Another problem with these tomatoes is that they have less taste instead of an old tomato which has a genetic recipe. This recipe can give it the "sweet-yet-acidic taste" (paragraph 1).In conclusion, the modern tomatoes have been genetically modified so that they loose taste and are even made different.

    • nathanm14-ste
      2/21/2017 - 01:31 p.m.

      Do you understand that just by breeding a plant you are genetically modifying it? There is no such thing as non genetically modified food. An "original genetic recipe" would have to be the plant that all modern plants came from, about 7 million years ago.

    • nathanm14-ste
      2/21/2017 - 01:33 p.m.

      Tomatoes are yummy, they make katchup. Katchup is for hot dogs and cheeseburgers. Cheeseburgers are yummy. Therefore yummy=tomatoes.

  • kbrayden-dav
    2/12/2017 - 07:06 p.m.

    In response to "How to Make a Tastier Tomato," I agree that scientist should make a tastier tomato. One reason I agree is that if tomatoes or tastier then more kids will like them. Another reason is that farmers only care about money and try to mass produce tomatoes but then they lose the taste of sweetness. It says in the article " Growers keep increasing individual tomato size and grow more per plant. The trouble is that there is a limit to how much sugar each tomato plant can produce. Bigger tomatoes and more of them means less sugar per tomato and less taste, Klee said.". A third reason if tomatoes become more sweeter they will go better with a lot more foods. Even though in the article it sates "a tastier supermarket tomato could be ready within three years.", I think this is a good idea.
    _______________________.

  • samanthal-buh
    2/12/2017 - 08:26 p.m.

    Scientists in Florida are trying to bring the sweetness and acidity back to a supermarket tomato. Over the last 50 years, tomato growers have grown bigger tomatoes on a normal tomato plant. The growers have also made the tomato plants grow more tomatoes, and a tomato plant can only produce a certain amount of sugar.

    This is cool because I have always thought big supermarket tomatoes are sorta bland. I wonder what plants have been affected by this.

  • saraip-
    2/13/2017 - 08:49 a.m.

    Its cool how the flavor tastes different if the tomatoes were bigger it loses the nice flavor it brings. I also like to see people care so much about what their fruits and veggies taste like. I usually like to put salt on my tomato slices.

  • elenaa-goa
    2/13/2017 - 09:59 a.m.

    What's wrong with modern tomatoes is that "Yield of tomatoes has tripled since 1960. But there's been a slow decline in taste quality as tomatoes have been bred for size and sturdiness at the expense of flavor. Klee said a tastier supermarket tomato could be ready within three years."according to the text ""We know what's wrong with modern tomatoes. And we have a pretty good idea how to fix it," said University of Florida horticultural scientist Harry Klee. He is co-author of a study. It appeared in the journal Science."

  • willfreds-goa
    2/13/2017 - 10:40 a.m.

    The thing that's wrong about modern tomatoes is that it has no taste because according to the article "How to make a tastier tomato" it says that "Bite to the a supermarket tomato and you'll probably notice something missing:taste."Some people are trying to make a tomato tastier and I think that it is possible.

  • brassfieldm-bur
    2/13/2017 - 11:10 a.m.

    When you bite into a tomato it dose not have that much of a taste. I actually like tomatoes you buy at the store.

  • angelax-bur
    2/13/2017 - 11:21 a.m.

    Modern tomatoes are lacking in freshness and taste. According to the article it stated, "Bite into a supermarket tomato and you'll probably notice something missing: taste. One key issue is size. Growers keep increasing individual tomato size and grow more per plant. The trouble is that there is a limit to how much sugar each tomato plant can produce. Bigger tomatoes and more of them means less sugar per tomato and less taste, Klee said." I personally don't like tomatoes, to me it tastes very disgusting and horrible. Maybe I can like it after the process the scientists are doing to make tomatoes better.

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