Have you noticed that the ripe, red tomato you bought from the grocery store is lacking in the flavor department? That perfect scarlet hue could be the culprit.

In a recent New York Times article, researchers have discovered a genetic reason for a less-than-flavorful tomato, even when the fruit is picked ripe and eaten immediately. A gene mutation that causes tomatoes to be a uniform, bright red simultaneously deactivates other genes that play an important role in producing the sugar and aromas that make for a tasty tomato.

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When growers discovered the variety containing the mutation, they began deliberately breeding it into their own tomatoes, for that advantage of a vibrant red color. Consumers are drawn to tomatoes that are completely red, whereas ripe tomatoes without the mutation normally have a ring of green, yellow or white at the stem end. Producers of tomato products like tomato sauce and ketchup also benefitted from the commercial potential of the mutation.

Harry Klee, a tomato researcher at the University of Florida in Gainesville, said that all modern tomatoes have been introduced to the mutation. With the results of the new study, he concluded that in order to make the fruit prettier, some important compounds linked to flavor were reduced.

Specifically, genes involved in a tomato’s ripening were disabled. Some of these genes are the ones that allow the fruit to make some of its own sugar, rather than getting it from its leaves. Other genes increase the amount of carotenoids, which are thought to be involved in flavor.

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Although mass-produced tomatoes have been hit by this mutation, many wild species and heirloom tomatoes have not been affected. So if you’re wanting a powerful punch of flavor in your next BLT or batch of homemade salsa, try purchasing from your local farmers market or look for specific wild varieties in the produce department.

What do you think? Have you noticed your store-bought tomatoes tasting lackluster?


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