Have you noticed that supermarket tomatoes just don't taste the same as they used to? That's because the genes that control the taste of a tomato have become damaged over time, according to a team of scientists who are on a mission to save the world from tasteless tomatoes.
The reason your local store is selling lower grade tomatoes is partly due to a fixation on other features such as size and firmness. Taste, which without having someone munching on the tomatoes as they are picked, is admittedly a little more difficult to grade. So year on year, the quality of tomatoes has diminished, but they've taken on a nice, easily packable shape at least.
Tomatoes taste could be revived. A joy for salad makers everywhere. Photo by Sean Hickman, on Flickr CC.
Denise Tieman and her team at Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Shenzen, China sequenced the genomes of 398 different types of tomato and sent 160 samples off to a panel who judged ranked them on "overall liking" and "flavour intensity". Their results were published today in Science. After all this sequencing and tasting, they were able to identify 13 chemical compounds linked to flavour and unsurprisingly these were lacking in modern tomatoes, as opposed to "heirloom" varieties which retained them.
They also found that smaller tomatoes were packed with more sugar, making their taste that much better. So the demand for big, beefy tomatoes, has in part led to the demise of flavour.
Nowthat they've found what makes tomatoes flavoursome, they may well be able to return to where they were in the past, when our taste buds weren't subjected to big, bland and watery fruit.