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How Did Modern Tomatoes Lose Their Flavor?

It’s not just your imagination. Today’s tomatoes simply don’t taste the way they used to, and now science has told us why. Researchers working on a study published in the journal Science performed exhaustive taste tests of 100 tomato varieties and sequenced the genomes of nearly 400 varieties. They were able to identify 23 volatile compounds that give a tomato its flavor. Unfortunately, many of those compounds, plus essential sugars, are missing from today’s supermarket tomatoes -- they were inadvertently lost when the industry sought to maximize yields and improve tomatoes' resistance to pests and disease.

Better tomatoes on the way?

  • “The flavor got lost because people didn’t know what the molecular and genetic bases were, so they couldn’t apply them,” said study author Antonio Granell.
  • Major seed producers are expected to use this new genetic information to make seeds that will grow into new, tastier tomatoes -- possibly within four years.
  • Harry Klee, professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida, also accused supermarkets of ruining the taste of tomatoes by chilling them at low temperatures, which adversely affects the flavor.

Discussion Comments

By anon998344 — On May 18, 2017

So that is why my heirloom tomatoes grown at home taste better than store bought tomatoes.

By anon998342 — On May 18, 2017

I was at the Univ. of Idaho in about 1973 when the book "Hard Tomatoes, Hard Times" came out. It blamed the land grant universities for serving the needs of the mega growers rather than, I suppose, local-type farmers. I remember it made quite a sensation then. --Bree

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