Why Supermarket Tomatoes Suck
We moved here to NE Washington in late March, so – as you might expect – it took a while for us to get settled in. Despite the effort involved in unpacking, I still took the time to plant a few seeds. My original intent was to plant the seedlings in containers, and “garden” on the upstairs porch, but at the last minute, I decided to clear out a weed-and-grass-choked raised bed in the backyard, and transplant my seedlings there. They’ve really taken off since then, which gives me hope for a bountiful harvest.
You can guess what I planted: tomatoes. If supermarket tomatoes were even halfway decent, I wouldn’t have bothered. But supermarket tomatoes are bad… hard and not particularly flavorful.
Why so? I always figured that picking them green and keeping them refrigerated had a lot to do with it. But – according to this New York Times article – there’s even more to it.
The unexpected culprit is a gene mutation that occurred by chance and that was discovered by tomato breeders. It was deliberately bred into almost all tomatoes because it conferred an advantage: It made them a uniform luscious scarlet when ripe.
Now, in a paper published in the journal Science, researchers report that the very gene that was inactivated by that mutation plays an important role in producing the sugar and aromas that are the essence of a fragrant, flavorful tomato.
…The mutation’s effect was a real surprise, said James J. Giovannoni of the United States Department of Agriculture Research Service, an author of the paper. He called the wide adoption of tomatoes that ripen uniformly “a story of unintended consequences.”
It’s not exactly a surprise that commercial growers chose looks over taste. Nonetheless, maybe they’ll pay some attention to this research. While I’m looking forward to munching the “fruits of my labor,” they’ll be gone by the end of summer. It sure would be nice to be able to find some decent-tasting tomatoes during the off-season, too.