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Why are tomatoes from the store watery and tasteless?

Before the grass was greener, the water was wet and the tomatoes tasted much better. That sounds like a complain of a dissatisfied pensioner? At least for tomatoes this is true.

This is confirmed by studies published in the prestigious journal Science . Although it is primarily a Chinese and American market, its message is a clear signal for Europe as well.

Researcher at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Sanwen Huang, has decided to find an answer to the question that many people are struggling with every purchase of vegetables: "Why is most tomato on the shelves completely tasteless ?" Tomatoes are healthy and nutritious, but their taste can be doubted. Huang, who is also one of the leaders of the Agricultural Institute for the Study of the Genome, has come up with a rigorous search for the answer to this thorny question. Together with his colleagues, he first put together a "sampler" of 398 varieties of tomatoes grown around the world. In this truly broad representation, they have found both modern and cultivated varieties, as well as rural and homemade cranberries, along with wild varieties directly from nature.

Concurrently, two branches of research were launched. While the former took place in laboratories under the strict supervision of the geneticists who sequenced the genome of the harvested varieties, the other consisted of practical testing. This was accomplished by a hundred volunteers who, on the basis of personal preferences, had to choose from the 160 most available tomato samples to choose the best ones. The subject of the evaluation was purely descriptive (skin gloss, color) as well as purely subjective characteristics such as the intensity of the aroma and taste, including the overall appreciation of the ideal tomato. The results of both parts of the research project were then taken under the briefed bio-statistics.

And they just appreciated that the greatest success for tomatoes is the taste and smell. Respectively 33 different chemicals whose production is contained in 250 different chromosome loci in the genetic code of tomato apples. "These thirty-three substances are the genetic key to the taste and aroma of tomatoes," Huang said. "When you bite into such a tomato, sugars and acids inside activate your taste buds and at the same time relax a lot of volatile substances." But knowing what makes tomato a truly delicious tomato still does not answer the question why most of the tomatoes sold are watery and tasteless. But just look at the genetic profile of your favorite varieties and those with no taste - and it was clear.

Thirteen, with the flavor and aroma of bound volatile substances (such as those derived from carotenoids), were represented in a much smaller concentration in "modern" bred varieties. "Yes, modern and commercially-propagated varieties have a demonstrably lower amount of these volatile substances than traditional and older varieties," Huang and colleagues found. But why? Existing tomato cultivars are bred with regard to larger size and surface stiffness. These features help to increase the volume of crops while facilitating their transport to consumers. Taste has so far been neglected as an irrelevant element in breeding.

But just these two preferred and genetically conditioned features go against the development of taste and olfactory properties. Huang's team members also point out that residual concentrations of such volatile substances in modern grown varieties suppress the cooling system used during long-range tomato transport. Also, small tomatoes of irregular shape, which we often do not see on shop shelves, have a significantly higher content of sugars. "We already have a map for the taste of tomatoes, and we can already provide a better-tasting tomato for our company," says Huang. But the path to it leads through molecular crossing.

Author: Radomír Dohnal

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