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August 28, 2012

Tomatoes: Grocery Store vs. Garden

Let me put this right out there: I may be unqualified to make this blog post because I don't like tomatoes. Please don't throw any at me. I think colorful heirloom tomatoes are beautiful and look absolutely delicious, but I just can't stand the flavor. Sorry. That being said, grocery store tomatoes look terrible, don't they? I mean, look at those. I think this photo gives me a leg to stand on. The one on the top right looks like a Granny Smith apple! Boy, would I be disappointed to bite into that.

All you tomato lovers out there know the difference between a real tomato and a supermarket tomato. You can taste the difference, and if you're like my mother-in-law, you can even smell the difference before you cut into the juicy fruit. Many tomato lovers won't buy tomatoes at the store, and a recent article in the LA Times offers perfect reason: A new study has found that a "genetic mutation, common in store-bought tomatoes, reduces the amount of sugar and other tasty compounds in the fruit." Scientific proof that (store-bought) tomatoes taste bad. (This is my excuse not to eat them.)

The article went on to say, "Mass-produced tomato varieties carrying this genetic change are light green all over before they ripen. Tomatoes without the mutation — including heirloom and most small-farm tomatoes — have dark-green tops before they ripen. There is also a significant difference in flavor between the two types of tomatoes, but researchers had not previously known the two traits had the same root cause."

Don't get too excited though. Plant biologist and coauthor of the study, Jim Giovannoni of Cornell University, says a new tomato will likely not be developed. "'There will probably continue to be selection for uniform tomatoes,' he said. But 'now that it's known that this mutation has negative consequences, you may find that growers begin selecting for fruit that is uniformly darker green, rather than uniformly lighter green.'"

So what does this mean for tomato lovers? It means you'd better enjoy a bounty of garden and farmer's market fresh tomatoes this summer. Can them. Freeze them. Roast them. Do whatever it is you do with tomatoes and savor every fresh juicy slice you can, because cold temperatures are around the corner and then it's back to cardboard tomatoes from the store for a few months until those first little Sungolds pop on your green garden vines next summer.


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