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

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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What's wrong with modern tomatoes?
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  • maddyh-ver
    2/13/2017 - 12:26 p.m.

    This is a good idea, but all the chemicals.... I hate how people are trying to improve fruits/ vegetables. The chemicals aren't gonna mak it better their making food worse.

    • rileyn-kul
      2/14/2017 - 11:26 a.m.

      I disagree, chemicals don't effect the taste or flavor of food much at all. In the early autumn I eat our field corn which we spray roundup and all those other good things on and I eat some organic corn that our neighbor grows and they taste the exact same.

      • andrewf-kul
        2/16/2017 - 02:00 p.m.

        Chemicals don't affect the flavor of food. As far as I know they don't affect the human when you eat them either. Also we would never be able to feed the world without chemicals because it would be to much work to kill weeds without them.

  • numaira-bur
    2/13/2017 - 12:34 p.m.

    People don't really take the time to make the tomato ripe for customers to use. We have to take the time to make it so then we can be able to buy it!

  • shaylap-bur
    2/13/2017 - 12:35 p.m.

    The modern tomatoes are having little taste due to enlargement and pumping. They are being reduced of their original sweet, flavorful taste. Scientists are conducting an experiment to bring back the tomato's flavor. I like tomatoes.

  • shaylap-bur
    2/13/2017 - 12:36 p.m.

    The modern tomatoes are having little taste due to enlargement and pumping. They are being reduced of their original sweet, flavorful taste. Scientists are conducting an experiment to bring back the tomato's flavor. I would like for this work because I like tomatoes.

  • keasiak-bur
    2/13/2017 - 12:39 p.m.

    Modern tomatoes are being grown with too much hormones and stuff causing them to be less healthy. You are putting a whole bunch of extra waste in your body.

  • joshuaa-bur
    2/13/2017 - 12:47 p.m.

    These tomatoes are to much with GMOs.

  • quazhyerr-
    2/13/2017 - 01:09 p.m.


  • krishav-jon
    2/13/2017 - 04:00 p.m.

    I did not know that tomatoes were naturally, not tasty it is surprising . Many people already do not like tomatoes . They might be shocked if they hear this news.

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