How to make a tastier tomato A woman shops for tomatoes at a grocery store in Des Moines, Iowa. Scientists have cooked up a way to reintroduce a key ingredient into mass-produced tomatoes: taste. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
How to make a tastier tomato

Bite into a supermarket tomato and you'll probably notice something missing: taste. Now scientists think they can put the yum back into the grocery tomato. They plan to tinker with its genetic recipe.
Researchers are reinstalling five long-lost genetic traits. These add much of the sweet-yet-acidic taste. Those traits had been bred out of mass-produced tomatoes for the past 50 years. The scientists are using mostly natural breeding methods, not genetic modification technology.
"We know what's wrong with modern tomatoes. And we have a pretty good idea how to fix it," said University of Florida horticultural scientist Harry Klee. He is co-author of a study. It appeared in the journal Science.
Yield of tomatoes has tripled since 1960. But there's been a slow decline in taste quality as tomatoes have been bred for size and sturdiness at the expense of flavor. Klee said a tastier supermarket tomato could be ready within three years.
"Nobody deliberately set out to make tomatoes that don't have flavor," Klee said. "Basically it was a process of neglect."
One key issue is size. Growers keep increasing individual tomato size and grow more per plant. The trouble is that there is a limit to how much sugar each tomato plant can produce. Bigger tomatoes and more of them means less sugar per tomato and less taste, Klee said.
So Klee and colleagues looked at the genomes of the mass-produced tomato varieties and heirloom tomatoes. The scientists want to try to help the grocery tomatoes catch up to their backyard garden taste.
Good tiny heirloom tomatoes "are like eating candy," said New York University nutrition professor Marion Nestle, who wasn't part of the study. "For people who care about how food tastes, it's a very big deal."
Klee isolated some sugar genes and ones that were more geared to pure taste. But he figured those won't work as well because they clash against growers' shipping and size needs. So he found areas that affect the aroma of tomatoes, but not size or heartiness. Reintroducing those into mass-produced tomatoes should work. This is because smell is a big factor in taste, he said.
Altering genes in a lab would make the process faster. But because of consumer distrust and regulations, Klee is opting for natural breeding methods - with help from an electric toothbrush to spread pollen. He's not quite there yet. But he is close.
Jose Ordovas is a nutrition professor at Tufts University. He applauds the work. But he cautions: "It is possible that some traits are not compatible and you cannot make the plant to behave exactly the way that you want."
Reggie Brown of growers' Florida Tomato Committee praised the study. He said it could help make supermarket tomatoes taste better.
No matter how much tinkering scientists do to mass-produced tomatoes, picking them too early and refrigerating them can make them bland. And consumers do have to be willing to pay more to have fresher, unrefrigerated tomatoes, said Klee. He generally doesn't do the taste testing in his lab.
"I don't like raw tomatoes very much at all. You know, I'm kind of tired of them," he said.

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What's wrong with modern tomatoes?
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  • kbrayden-dav
    2/12/2017 - 07:06 p.m.

    In response to "How to Make a Tastier Tomato," I agree that scientist should make a tastier tomato. One reason I agree is that if tomatoes or tastier then more kids will like them. Another reason is that farmers only care about money and try to mass produce tomatoes but then they lose the taste of sweetness. It says in the article " Growers keep increasing individual tomato size and grow more per plant. The trouble is that there is a limit to how much sugar each tomato plant can produce. Bigger tomatoes and more of them means less sugar per tomato and less taste, Klee said.". A third reason if tomatoes become more sweeter they will go better with a lot more foods. Even though in the article it sates "a tastier supermarket tomato could be ready within three years.", I think this is a good idea.

  • samanthal-buh
    2/12/2017 - 08:26 p.m.

    Scientists in Florida are trying to bring the sweetness and acidity back to a supermarket tomato. Over the last 50 years, tomato growers have grown bigger tomatoes on a normal tomato plant. The growers have also made the tomato plants grow more tomatoes, and a tomato plant can only produce a certain amount of sugar.

    This is cool because I have always thought big supermarket tomatoes are sorta bland. I wonder what plants have been affected by this.

  • ashleyg-jon
    2/13/2017 - 12:24 p.m.

    I always loved tomatos and think they are tasty

  • maddyh-ver
    2/13/2017 - 12:26 p.m.

    This is a good idea, but all the chemicals.... I hate how people are trying to improve fruits/ vegetables. The chemicals aren't gonna mak it better their making food worse.

    • rileyn-kul
      2/14/2017 - 11:26 a.m.

      I disagree, chemicals don't effect the taste or flavor of food much at all. In the early autumn I eat our field corn which we spray roundup and all those other good things on and I eat some organic corn that our neighbor grows and they taste the exact same.

      • andrewf-kul
        2/16/2017 - 02:00 p.m.

        Chemicals don't affect the flavor of food. As far as I know they don't affect the human when you eat them either. Also we would never be able to feed the world without chemicals because it would be to much work to kill weeds without them.

  • krishav-jon
    2/13/2017 - 04:00 p.m.

    I did not know that tomatoes were naturally, not tasty it is surprising . Many people already do not like tomatoes . They might be shocked if they hear this news.

  • nicoler1-pla
    2/13/2017 - 06:48 p.m.

    Scientists are attempting to make tomatoes taste better, and one horticultural scientist, Harry Klee, is leading the charge. In recent decades, tomatoes have begun to be genetically engineered for size and stability rather than taste, leading to supermarket tomatoes that taste rather bland. Part of this issue is because each tomato plant can only produce so much sugar, and since growers are trying to grow more, larger tomatoes per plant, each individual tomato is not getting enough sugar. Klee is going to attempt to target genes that affect tomatoes' aroma, since smell is closely linked to taste. Making the required gene changes in a lab would be faster and easier, but more consumers are distrustful of GMO's and there are stricter regulations now, so Klee will naturally breed the tomatoes. I personally found this article interesting because healthy food is important to me and I try to avoid GMO's as much as possible. I think it's neat that scientists are now trying to reverse some of the negative effects of genetic engineering. This article relates to civic engagement because as consumers it is our responsibility to know what is in the food we eat and advocate for safe, non-GMO foods. The long term effects of GMO consumption are not known, and citizens must speak out against the potentially harmful consequences.

  • jacquelineb-pla
    2/14/2017 - 02:07 p.m.

    This article discussed the evolution of tomatoes over the last 60 years towards a less tasteful fruit. The plant had been subjected to ripening and genetic modifications that have impacted the flavor. Scientists from the University of Florida collaborated with others to develop more natural ways (bee pollination, and smaller tomato sizes) of returning the distinct flavor back to the tomato. This article relates to civic engagement in the way that it shows how the determination of a small group can have an impact on a large group. Scientists involved in the study are dedicated to producing produce that benefits society as a whole.

  • mcaitlin-dav
    2/15/2017 - 08:51 p.m.

    In response to, "How to make a tastier tomato," I agree scientists should install genetic traits. The first reason is "These add much of the sweet-yet-acidic taste," the modifications add the tomatoes a sweet taste. The next reason is "Those traits had been bred out of mass-produced tomatoes for the past 50 years," the scientist are adding traits that tomatoes lost years ago which is a good thing. The last reason is "The scientists are using mostly natural breeding methods, not genetic modification technology," the scientists aren't using modification from technology but they are using more natural ways to breed them. Although the growers are increasing the tomato sizes causing less sweetness, installing the genetic traits gives the tomatoes a sweeter taste.

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