Over the past few decades, commercial tomatoes have slowly lost their delicious taste. They are more bland now. With genetic sequencing, scientists think they can restore some of the taste. A recent study published in January 2017 revealed chemical compounds that scientists can restore in commercial tomatoes, in order to improve their flavor.
Scientists Find a Way to Improve the Taste of Commercial Tomatoes
According to a study published in the Science journal on January 26, 2017 that was conducted by researchers at University of Florida, genetic sequencing can be used to partially restore the sweet taste of commercial tomatoes. Genetic sequencing is determining the order of DNA nucleotides, which are bases of the DNA.
Researchers compared the genetics and flavor profiles of ancestral and heirloom tomatoes with commercial tomatoes. A heirloom tomato has been passed down through several generations for its valued characteristics. Through the comparison, they found several chemical compounds that are responsible for giving tomatoes a good taste.
The full taste cannot be recovered because the market demands large, sturdy tomatoes. And lost taste is one of the sacrifices to grow larger, sturdier fruit.
They found the missing chemical compounds by sequencing 400 varieties of tomatoes. The researchers conducted taste tests on 101 of these varieties to discover which types people liked most. Upon examination of the favored tomatoes, they detected 25 chemical compounds that enhance taste. 13 of the chemical compounds they identified were significantly reduced in commercial varieties.
More Background on Commercial Tomatoes and How This Research Will Affect Produce
Scientists are now working on restoring the lost chemical compounds in commercial tomatoes by crossbreeding them with heirloom varieties. They estimate that it will take three years before the tomatoes are improved and sold in grocery stores. According to plant geneticist Esther van der Knaap,
If those tomatoes can be even slightly improved it will be a big gain for consumers, and this study certainly shows a road map of how that can be done.
Bigger tomatoes don’t taste as good because the limited amount of sugar in them is distributed across a larger area. And there wasn’t much the researchers could do to change that fact. Thus, they decided to explore a tomato’s scent. Smell plays an important role in how humans taste and experience food. As research assistant Denise Tieman explained,
The real excitement of food is what you smell. When you chew, these aroma compounds get into your olfactory systems and that’s what really makes things taste good.
A likely consequence of breeding commercial tomatoes with heirloom varieties is a shorter shelf-life. The plants may only be 90% as productive as well. These factors could cause the price of tomatoes to rise. However, as horticultural scientist and study co-author Harry Klee said, consumers will probably be willing to pay a higher price for a better tasting fruit.
The genetic sequencing technique used in this study can be utilized to improve the taste of other commercial produce as well. In fact, a commercial strawberry breeder has already hired some of Klee’s former students to run genetic sequencing on strawberries to help him improve his fruit.
This genetic sequencing study on the taste of tomatoes will lead to the flavor improvement of not only commercial tomatoes but other fruits and vegetables as well. Commercial tomatoes lose their flavor because sugar must be spread across a larger area and certain chemical compounds disappear during breeding. The researchers of this study found 25 chemical compounds that were severely diminished in commercial tomatoes.
By restoring these chemical compounds, they can partially restore the tomato’s delicious taste. It will take around three years for the project to be complete, but other producers have already shown an interest in applying the same techniques to improve their fruits and vegetables too.
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