Friday, June 29, 2012

Let's call the whole thing off

Researchers reveal secret behind tasteless tomatoes
Scientists have caught the culprit behind those tasteless tomatoes that sink your salsa, toughen your tart and rattle your ratatouille.

Turns out, tomato growers' best intentions over decades are to blame.

By breeding tomatoes to ripen evenly and harvest easier, growers unwittingly robbed those sumptuous ruby reds of their taste.

Unwittingly? The large tomato producers don't grow tomatoes, they grow dollars. If they wanted it to taste good because you demanded taste instead of look, they could have done that.

Guambat had a very kind, gentle, honorable and hard working great uncle Solon who share cropped and rented his little patch of Tennessee soil, growing all sorts of produce from melons to beans to corn and, yes, 'maters. He mainly sold his produce as a sort of roving vegetable stand off the back of his aging Chevy pickup with a cracked block that required water every 30 minutes.

Guambat spent an unforgettable summer with him and his wife Fannie Lou on their farm a bit over a half century ago. It was hard and hot yakka, to be sure. But it was a lesson in value not forgotten. Tomatoes held a particular poignant memory.

Tomato baskets had wire handles, and carrying a bunch of them over the course of a day made for very tender hands. But the job was not done when, as the sun went down and the 'maters were gathered at the farmhouse, we'd have to sit and wipe each 'mater in each basket to make it clean and presentable.

Sometimes produce would come in in such great quantities that we couldn't sell it all to his household customers, so he'd take it to the bigger dealers. We had a particularly good crop of tomatoes that summer, so we made several trips to a tomato manufacturing depot, where it got bought and turned into paste, ketchup and other saucy things.

Guambat noticed that most sellers hauled in half-rotten, stinky wet baskets of 'maters, but Uncle Solon only took his choice, hand cleaned tomatoes, just like he'd sell to the ladies of the households. I asked him why did we have to work so hard to sell a choice product, when all the others didn't bother. At the manufacturer, everyone got the same price.

He said, he didn't bother much about what others sold, but he was selling Solon's tomaters, and he cared about that. These are Solon's tomatoes, he said.

Flavor Is the Price of Tomatoes’ Scarlet Hue, Study Finds
Yes, they are often picked green and shipped long distances. Often they are refrigerated, which destroys their flavor and texture. But now researchers have discovered a genetic reason that diminishes a tomato’s flavor even if the fruit is picked ripe and coddled.

The unexpected culprit is a gene mutation that occurred by chance and was discovered by tomato breeders. It was deliberately bred into almost all tomatoes because it conferred an advantage: It made them a uniform luscious scarlet when ripe.

Heirloom tomatoes and many wild species do not have the uniform ripening mutation. Breeders can cross tomatoes the traditional way and, by selecting for ones with the right genetics, end up with the same sort of tomato.“The idea is to get the vegetable seed industry interested,” Dr. Powell said.

So there you have it. 'Maters where bred for your eye and for you to buy, and you brought this on yourself by indulging this little trick.

You want a tomato that tastes good, too? Pay for it. It's a lot of hard work.

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