How the Tomato Lost Its Flavor...and How We Can Get It Back

Ever wonder why garden-fresh tomatoes are so much sweeter and tastier than store-bought varieties? It turns out the answer may lie in the tomato’s genes.

A study recently published in Science found that decades of breeding tomatoes for uniform color and firmness have robbed them of a gene that boosts their sugar content.

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Scientists suspect that the tomato’s sugar content is related to its flavor and palatability, but there may also be other factors in play. Tomato geneticist David Francis explained: “The real culprit affecting tomato flavor is a production system that picks tomatoes before they are ripe,” noting that this process changes the ripening process and interrupts the conversion of starch into sugar.

Nonetheless, plant scientists are hopeful that an improved understanding of the plant’s sugar-making process could someday lead to the development of a tomato that is firm, ships well, ripens evenly, and tastes great.

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