How The Taste Of Tomatoes Went Bad And Kept On Going : The Salt : NPR

Notice how some of these tomatoes have unripe-looking tops? Those "green shoulders" are actually the keys to flavor.The tomato is the vegetable or fruit, if you must that we love to hate. We know how good it can be and how bad it usually is. And everybody just wants to know: How did it get that way?Today, scientists revealed a small but intriguing chapter in that story: a genetic mutation that seemed like a real improvement in the tomatos quality, but which actually undermined its taste.Before we get to the mutation, though, lets start with the old tomatoes — the varieties that people grew a century or more ago. Thanks to enthusiastic seed savers and heirloom tomato enthusiasts, you can still find many of them. Eric Rice, owner of Country Pleasures Farm near Middletown, Md., first encountered heirloom tomatoes when he was a graduate student in North Carolina.”I decided I really liked them,” he says. He liked the vivid taste and the unusual colors, from orange to purple. These tomatoes also have great names: Cherokee Purple, Dr. Wyches, Mortgage Lifter.Rice now grows these tomatoes to sell at a farmers market in Washington, D.C. But he admits that all that tomato personality can make heirlooms harder to grow and sell. “Heirloom tomatoes dont ship very well because theyre softer. And frankly, theyre all different shapes and sizes.” This makes them more difficult to pack.Theres something else youll notice as these tomatoes start to get ripe — something central to this story. The part of the tomato near the stem — whats called the shoulder of the fruit — stays green longer.”I think it is an issue for the consumer,” says Rice, “because people do buy with their eyes. And green shoulders also mean its not entirely ripe or not as soft and tasty there.”Those green shoulders turn out to be more significant than you might think. In this weeks issue of the journal Science, scientists report that when they disappeared from modern tomatoes, some of the tomatos taste went with them. Read more…

via How The Taste Of Tomatoes Went Bad And Kept On Going : The Salt : NPR.

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