Ever wondered why home grown tomatoes are a tasty treat while those found in grocery shelves are so bland?
Researchers delving into the secret of sweet flavor of tomatoes found that volatile organic compounds, sugars and acids played a vital role.
The discovery could be an important step in the development of better-tasting tomatoes for the commercial market.
Lead author of the study, Harry Klee, an eminent scholar and professor in the University of Florida’s horticultural sciences department stated, “A big problem with the modern, commercial tomato is that growers are not paid to produce a tomato that tastes good. They are paid purely on how many pounds of tomatoes they put into boxes.”
This is the first step to restoring good flavor in commercial tomatoes. Consumers care deeply about tomatoes. Their lack of flavor is a major focus of consumer dissatisfaction with modern agriculture. One could do worse than to be known as the person who helped fix flavor."-Harry Klee
Series of taste tests
In order to get some insight into why heirloom varieties had a sweeter flavor, the researchers conducted a series of taste tests.
The focus was to evaluate the level of flavour intensity, sweetness and sourness in some of the heirloom and supermarket-bought varieties.
They got together over 100 different varieties of tomatoes including many heirlooms. The chemical diversity in each type was determined and then each tomato’s taste was rated by 13 panels of 100 people each.
Harry Klee explained, “With something like a banana, you can identify one volatile compound that you smell and say, ‘Aha! It’s a banana!’ With a tomato, it’s not that simple.
"You can detect 400 volatile compounds in a tomato. People have speculated that maybe 20 are really important, and they need to be orchestrated properly. It’s a little more complicated than we like.”
Findings of study
The chemical analysis and taste test results identified 12 key compounds linked to aroma and found traces of another 12 for sweetness including 8 that were important for overall flavor.
Contrary to expectations, the sweetest-tasting tomatoes did not contain the highest level of sugars, believed to be vital for tomato taste. On the other hand, it was noted that a particular type of apocarotenoid attributed to the sweetness of the fruit.
Harry Klee stated, "This is the first step to restoring good flavor in commercial tomatoes.
"Consumers care deeply about tomatoes, their lack of flavor is a major focus of consumer dissatisfaction with modern agriculture. One could do worse than to be known as the person who helped fix flavor."
Cherry tomatoes, Cherry Roma and Maglia Rosa, medium-sized Ailsa Craig and the large German Queen rated high on the heirloom varieties.
The study details are published in Current Biology.