Here's Why Pretty Tomatoes Are Bland
Scientists look at the genetic mutation behind uniform tomatoes, finding out why the modern red tomato isn't quite as tasty as an heirloom
The modern red tomato may not be a shining star (especially the grocery-store variety), but scientists have discovered why tomatoes aren't as sweet, and what we can do to change them.
Apparently, back in the day, tomatoes used to have green or white tinges (not surprising, given the look of heirloom tomatoes) that developed with ripeness. But since everyone loves a uniform, beautiful, red tomato, when growers found a mutation that made tomatoes color uniformly, growers bred them into all their crops.
Unfortunately, researchers discovered that this very mutation disabled the genes that were used in ripening. Most of today's tomatoes are a light green, instead of dark green, which means that sugar-producing photosynthesis mostly happens in tomato leaves.
Currently, the uniformly bred tomatoes only get sugar from the leaves, but if another mutation is introduced, the fruit itself could produce sugars, increasing flavor and sweetness. Researchers have discovered a way to turn on the ripening gene, while keeping the uniform color. This means their version of tomatoes turn dark green (for photosynthesis), before turning red.
The results? "The fruit was evenly dark green and then red and had 20 percent more sugar and 20 to 30 percent more carotenoids when ripe," The New York Times reports. These developments have yet to hit mainstream growers, so for now, heirloom tomatoes (which have not been bred into uniformity) will have to do.
Jessica Chou is an associate editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @jesschou.