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. Scientists think they can put the yum back into the grocery tomato by tinkering with its genetic recipe.
 
Researchers are reinstalling five long-lost genetic traits that 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 that 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, a nutrition professor at Tufts University, applauds the work, but 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, who 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?
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COMMENTS (17)
  • hella-dav
    2/16/2017 - 10:11 p.m.

    This article is about tomatoes now and how they are almost flavorless. Scientists have said that something can be done about that. The tomatoes' genetics can be modified in order to get a tasty tomato. It is said that even if the tomato is genetically changed, if it is picked to early or to late then they will still be blan. Some people disagree with this theory and say that even if you can change the tomatoes taste it won't be the taste you are looking for.

  • zlily-dav
    2/16/2017 - 11:21 p.m.

    In response to “How to make a tastier tomato," I found this article interesting for three reasons. First, I was surprised to learn that farmers and horticultural scientists were so focused on size and quantity that they neglected taste. For instance, the article states, “But there's been a slow decline in taste quality as tomatoes have been bred for size and sturdiness at the expense of flavor.” One would think that a food’s flavor would be the most important factor. I also thought this article was interesting because I learned that scientists were going to focus on improving the smell of tomatoes in order to make them have more flavor. The article says, “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.” I think this is a pretty clever solution because it still allows farmers to meet shipping and size needs. Finally, I also learned some basic information about tomatoes by reading this article. For example, in the article it states, “No matter how much tinkering scientists do to mass-produced tomatoes, picking them too early and refrigerating them can make them bland.” We refrigerate our tomatoes as soon as we get them home from the grocery store. We thought it would prolong their freshness. Instead, we might be making them tasteless. Even though scientists and farmers have good intentions when it comes to mass-producing food, I think they have gone too far with tomatoes. They need to bring back the flavor.

  • angelal-atk
    2/21/2017 - 01:16 p.m.

    They have lost their flavor.

  • sjulia-dav
    2/22/2017 - 05:09 p.m.

    In response to this article I agree that they are trying to make them taste better. One reason is, because if you are going to go but the tomatoes you want them to taste good and fresh. Another reason is that the taste can have a huge factor in what you are cooking and eating. A third reason is that if they make them taste better then they will smell better. It says in the article that 'This is because smell is a big factor in taste, he said."

  • katrinak-smi1
    3/28/2017 - 06:18 p.m.

    The thing wrong with modern tomatoes is, that the tomatoes in the grocery stores don't have the taste they used to. The tomatoes also are bigger than what they used to be which causes them to lose their taste.

  • brycew-orv
    9/18/2017 - 11:35 a.m.

    I think that having these tomatoes in our stores isn't that bad. If you just add some salt to it, they would have more flavor. But on the other hand, it wouldn't be too bad to try better flavored tomatoes.

  • lybic-lew
    11/07/2017 - 12:59 p.m.

    This can be good for modern foods and the can be better for you.It can also make the food taste better than it already was.I think this article was great!

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