Scientists Reinstalling “Tasty” Genes In Supermarket Tomatoes

Image courtesy of Bill Binns

Researchers recently confirmed what food storage experts had long believed: Refrigerating tomatoes causes them to lose flavor. Now scientists are hoping that some genetic tinkering will turn blah supermarket tomatoes into flavorful rivals to their farm-fresh cousins.

Food researchers have been reintroducing five genetic traits that were lost along the way in the hopes of restoring that sweet, acidic taste to mass-produced tomatoes, according to a study published Thursday in Science.

This, after decades of declining taste quality as farmers sought to grow ever larger, sturdier tomatoes that would look good and survive well on supermarket shelves, sacrificing flavor in the process.

“We know what’s wrong with modern tomatoes and we have a pretty good idea how to fix it,” said University of Florida horticultural scientist Harry Klee, co-author of the study, tells the Associated Press.

Part of the problem is that each tomato can only produce so much sugar, so the larger the fruit, the less sugar per tomato, the less taste there is, Klee explains.

Researchers analyzed the genomes of mass-produced tomato varieties alongside heirloom tomatoes in an effort to boost the deliciousness factor in the former. They identified some genes — like those affecting tomato aroma — and reintroduced them to supermarket tomatoes.

Instead of using genetic modification, however, the scientists are trying mostly natural crossbreeding methods, like using an electric toothbrush to help spread pollen from one plant to the next.

In any case, if you want maximum tastiness in your tomatoes, remember: Never store them in the refrigerator. And if they’re off the vine, store them stem-down to prevent moisture from escaping and bacteria from entering, and thus, prolong shelf life.