A lot of things today are not the way they used to be in the past. The flavor of tomatoes is one of the things that have changed during the years.
According to the USDA, Americans buy $ 2 billion worth of fresh and processed tomatoes every year and only China is producing more of them. And all of us are witnesses that tomatoes don’t taste as good as they used to and we can all agree that store-bought varieties are lacking a certain punch in the flavor.
That’s happening because tomato breeders are prioritizing other things like pest and disease resistance, durability or quantity which lead to poor quality.
A team of scientists, led by Harry Klee, a professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida, began a mission of bringing the original taste of tomatoes back. The team’s goal was to identify which chemicals give tomatoes their flavor. Their study was published in the journal Science.
First the scientists sequenced the DNA and examined the flavor-associated chemicals of 398 modern, heirloom and wild tomatoes. Then they selected 160 samples out of 398 and had 100 subjects rank according to taste.
By combining the taste panel’s results and the samples’ chemicals and genetic analyses researchers succeeded in identifying the missing genes, called alleles, associated with flavor.
“We wanted to identify why modern tomato varieties are deficient in those flavor chemicals,” “It’s because they have lost the more desirable alleles of a number of genes.”- Klee said.
Then they could replace bad genes in modern tomatoes with good ones that restore the taste. The study not only found a way to make tomatoes taste like tomatoes again it also allowed breeders a thorough genetic analysis of tomatoes.
Although breeding more delicious tomatoes will take years, it’s worth the waiting.
“We can make the supermarket tomato taste noticeably better,” Klee claimed.
Adrian Hegemanat from the University of Minnesota, a professor of plant and microbial biology told The Verge:
“A breeder can now simultaneously select for hundreds of these genetic markers to rapidly select new plants with as many of the desirable traits as possible. This will make it easier to cross two different tomato varieties and test the progeny from that cross at very early stages of growth to get rid of plants that lack key gene linked traits.”