The Science Behind the Taste of Tomatoes
Have you been removing tasteless tomatoes from your salads? Those tomato slices may look delicious but once you sink your teeth into the fruit, it’s tasteless. Scientists have mapped the genome of hundreds of varieties of tomatoes in an attempt to find out how tomatoes lost their flavor and the best, most important part—how to get it back.
Scientists published a study outlining the genetic analysis of many varieties of tomatoes. They asked consumers to rate samples, and from that information they were able to figure out which genetic variants affect the taste and smell of the fruit.
The key to growing the perfect tomato lies in the genes. Researchers took the sequenced genomes of 398 varieties and grew a portion of them in the lab. After they were grown, the taste tests began. Combining the genetic analysis with the opinions of tasters helped the team to find which genes caused that tasty tomato flavor that people enjoy.
The good news is that tomato breeders can now select what genetics they wish their varietals to have and grow those tomatoes. The bad news is that some of the desirable traits, like flavor, may come with undesirable traits like small yield or short storage life.
While the results of this study can be used by tomato breeders to restore flavor, it is unknown if large commercial growers will use this information. They tend to pick tomatoes when they are still green so the fruit will transport without bruising. Small local growers will benefit from the study and grow more flavorful tomatoes since there is no need for long distance shipping.