June 29, 2012

Why are store tomatoes so bad?

Maybe it's the redness.
The unexpected culprit is a gene mutation that occurred by chance and that was discovered by tomato breeders. It was deliberately bred into almost all tomatoes because it conferred an advantage: It made them a uniform luscious scarlet when ripe.

Now, in a paper published in the journal Science, researchers report that the very gene that was inactivated by that mutation plays an important role in producing the sugar and aromas that are the essence of a fragrant, flavorful tomato.

63 comments:

Henry said...

Go to the closest farmers market and buy some green zebra tomatoes. Those are pure tomato heaven.

Pogo said...

The moral of every story about unintended consequences.

""Why is government health care so bad?"
Maybe it's the coercion.

The unexpected culprit is the loss of incentive that occurred when medicine was nationalized.

Deference to the state was deliberately bred into almost all children because it conferred an advantage: It made them a uniform luscious taxpayer when ripe.
"

The Drill SGT said...

I'm a relative tomato expert having once worked in a tomato/peach cannery in Davis, CA. zillions of California tomatoes, at least until the smelt huggers and Obama turned off the water.

eating Tomatoes are picked green and hard, so they can travel. Canning Tomatoes are picked much riper, you would call them over ripe. But they have flavor.

They get treated with ethylene gas to make them turn red.

The tomato industry got the chemistry from UC Davis

Pogo said...

Sorry for being OT; I am still furious this morning. Soon comes acceptance and whatever K├╝bler-Ross stage comes next.
Then death.

tim in vermont said...

I have noticed in the past few months that store tomatoes have gotten better. There was some tomato on my salad in a decent restaurant, out of season for tomatoes here, and it was delicious. Then I found similar in a local grocery store, Price Chopper I think, not Onion River Co-op, or anything like that.

I am thinking some advance has just occurred that could make a BLT something besides an August treat.

tim in vermont said...

Pogo,
Right now reserve some vacation time around the election and volunteer in the nearest swing state.

I will be in Florida for the election, driving people to the polls.

Hagar said...

Calm down Pogo. This was a peculiar decision apparently arrived at in peculiar ways, and I think it smells more of Lyndon Johnson than the "judicial temperament."
Time will tell, but I think the Democrats' jubilation may well turn out to be premature.

Ann Althouse said...

If the Supreme Court allows Congress to impose a tax on people who refuse to buy tomatoes, I'll pay the tax.

But I might want to litigate about whether these things they sell in stores really are tomatoes.

I say they are not. Just because Congress labels them tomatoes doesn't mean the Court has to accept them as tomatoes.

Roger J. said...

If tomatoes are like the red delicious apples of Washington state, they are grown for eye appeal and not taste--dont think is anything new--we in Memphis have access to Ripley (a town) tomatoes which are heavenly. Red delicious apples on the other hand are like eating cardboard.

Scott said...

Here in New Jersey (where you can buy local farm-grown tomatoes that look ugly but taste wonderful), you can sometimes get strange looking yellow or purple or orange tomatoes of "antique" varieties.

But a lot of them are less edible than the hybrid varieties you can get in the grocery store. A lot of antique tomatoes have tough skins and are not so flavorful. But they look interesting.

My favorite tomato used to be Beefstake, but now I like the smaller Plum tomatoes. I guess that Italian ladies used to like them for tomato sauce; but I like the nice bite-sized pieces they make for salads. And generally the stores in NJ sell them ripe.

Nathan Alexander said...

Pogo,
Conservatives have already developed a huge numerical advantage in state governors, and large numerical advantages in state legislatures.

Conservatives are supposed to be the ideology that favors decentralized control, so why is everyone focusing only on federal solutions?!?

We need to use the Obamacare ruling to push for Constitutional Amendments.

Two good ones are here:
http://pjmedia.com/blog/a-modest-proposal/

Others could be overturning the 17th Amendment, or a balanced budget, or limiting czars/executive orders, eliminating the TSA, resolving immigration, eliminating public-sector unions, eliminating taxpayer support to the Progressive Political Machine, and adding voter ID or other anti-fraud measures...

Amexpat said...

I think Bloomberg should outlaw them faux tomatoes.

Scott said...

Bloomberg should outlaw chewing gum, like Singapore did. No more black dots of used chewing gum all over subway platforms and sidewalks!

MadisonMan said...

Of course they are tomatoes -- because they can breed with flavorful tomatoes and produce viable and fertile offspring.

So your argument that they're not tomatoes fails. They're just lousy tomatoes.

tim in vermont said...

I was in France on business a couple months back, and one of my French colleagues volunteered that one of the things he liked best about America was the heirloom tomatoes that you cannot get in Europe. I think it might be due to EU regulations and strict definitions about what is, and is not, a tomato.

Chip S. said...

Or, they're tomatoes for certain purposes (breeding) and not-tomatoes for other purposes (eating).

We won't know for sure which is of these states is the controlling legal authority until John Roberts tells us.

Bertram Wooster said...

I like Red Delicious now and then but, that to the side, monoculture in food plants is a problem and not just because growers desire predictable ripening, transportability and eye appeal over all other traits. (Watermelon, which was fragile and delicious when I was a child, is now durable and worthless.) Most of the chemicals we put on food crops are because of the vulnerability of monoculture crops to disease.

The half dozen commercially important varieties of apple are always one disease away from extinction because of monoculture. In former times one variety replaced another if a disease took one of them out. These days we hang on with pesticide. Potato farmers, who have to produce a russet variety that makes good looking french fries, live even closer to the edge than apple growers.

Potatoes and apples and I think tomatoes as well exist in thousands of varieties. There is an orchard in New York with over 2,500 varieties of apple tree. You wouldn't know that some of them are apples if you ate one. These varieties in the genetic savings bank are a resource for the future.

The best tomatoes are always home grown. I'm going to look for older varieties after reading about this commercial eye-candy mutation. When I hear something like this I think I should have known it before some geneticist figured it out. The money in agriculture is in abundance and reliability. Not necessarily superior flavor.

rehajm said...

Just because Congress labels them tomatoes doesn't mean the Court has to accept them as tomatoes.

You'll know a tomato when you see it. Now the court can get going on the fruit vs. vegetable thing...

tim in vermont said...

I guess I should have said ",which you cannot get" instead of "that" Don't tell Grammar Girl :$

Fprawl said...

I drove 200 miles south to Knoxville in March to get a jump on seedlings.
Here in Kentucky we don't plant until Derby Day, but wiht the early spring, i got a jump, have 1.5 pounders hanging ready to go.

Dave said...

Too cool. Another great tomato paper from Jim Giovannoni (et al.) they just published the genome not too long ago.

ricpic said...

Sometimes it's an advantage to have grown up on store bought foods that maybe aren't the ne plus ultra of taste. I don't think store bought tomatoes are so bad.

bagoh20 said...

I wonder how many people are like me. I hate tomatoes but love tomato sauce on almost anything except ice cream. I haven't tried it yet.

edutcher said...

As Pogo notes, those damned Unintended Consequences always nail you.

The Drill SGT said...

I'm a relative tomato expert

I wasn't aware tomatoes had relatives.

PS Agree with Hagar on Demo jubilation.

This fall they'll have to run on death panels, the biggest tax in history, and the knowledge this repeal can't be filibustered.

PPS We're already starting to find out who the Sunshine Patriots and Summer soldiers are.

A lot of people who were making noises like "Red Dawn" are whimpering how it's all over. And others are saying, "We have not yet begun to fight".

AllieOop said...

Homegrown garden tomatoes fresh off the vine still warm from the sun, pure paradise. Actually the German word for tomato is Paradeiser.

EMD said...

Plum and Roma tomatoes seem to be the best store-bought tomatoes you can get.

The others are pretty terrible.

I've heard you should put them in a brown paper bag (not in the refrigerator) to help them ripen when you bring them home. Is this true?

I'd also like to know why the hell Wendy's even puts "tomatoes" on their sandwiches.

AllieOop said...

EMD, yes it's true, something about the gases they give off In that bag speeding ripening.

Chip S. said...

For maximum flavor, eat the brown paper bag and use the tomatoes as doorstops.

EMD said...

For maximum flavor, eat the brown paper bag and use the tomatoes as doorstops.

And increase your fiber as well!

Palladian said...

I knew something was wrong when I realized that I greatly preferred canned whole Italian tomatoes to run-of-the-mill supermarket tomatoes.

I'm biased because I grew up eating the tomatoes my grandfather grew. I remember the giant vines of them growing all around my grandparent's house, even right in the front yard among the unkempt but beautiful clumps of marigolds and roses.

Cheryl said...

I recall something like this with roses, too. It seems that the most beautiful to look at are the least fragrant. Many of the hybrid tea roses have virtually no fragrance.

Peaches, too--the ones developed for beautiful, rosy skin and shipping durability have less taste.

Darcy said...

Fascinating! I used to toast bread and make a tomato sandwich with mayo and dill. I never do this anymore because I can't find a tomato that is worth it. They are just awful now.

The only thing close to the flavor I remember is a cherry tomato, but who wants to slice cherry tomatoes to make a sammie?

Shanna said...

Is that why the little yellow tomatoes are so, so good?

I have noticed in the past few months that store tomatoes have gotten better.

They are in season. Everything is better in season, even at the grocery store.

William said...

I shall further develop Pogo's trope of the flavorless tomato as a metaphor for our health care system. The most important ingredient in a tomato is its flavor. However, we cannot tell its flavor until we have purchased it. We associate redness with flavor. Therefore, we buy red tomatoes--even though flavor has actually been bred out of them.....So it is with health care. The most important ingredient in health care is its ability to cure or alleviate our ailments. We cannot tell whether a treatment is effective or not until we have undergone it. Thus we overestimate access and affordability over efficacy and innovation. Britain's national health service is nothing to brag about, but it is affordable. ..I fear that with this new bill, efficacy and innovation will be bred out of the system. The market agrees with me. Yesterday, on the stock exchange, medical device systems took a hit and hospital corporations prospered. There you have it. There's more money to be made in selling redness than in selling flavor.

Darcy said...

Thus we overestimate access and affordability over efficacy and innovation.

Yep. But supporters deny this - the British NHS still has plenty of defenders - and I'm convinced you won't ever get the advocates of socialized medicine to admit this truth unless they are victims of it. And even then, it will have to be so obvious to them as to be shocking. Which is too late, of course.

tim in vermont said...

I remember as a kid thinking I didn't like tomatoes until my father sliced up a home grown one, and sprinkled sugar on it. I still love that.

And no, tomatoes are not anywhere near in season around here. Maybe they are hydroponic though. I hear the pot growers are branching out.

Chip S. said...

Darcy goes right to the heart of the matter.

Innovation is overwhelmingly the driver of rising HC "costs." Those "costs," of course, are the reason the US HC system is tops among all nations in its ability to actually treat disease.

Darcy said...

@Chip

And we can thank our government for it's contribution to the reason R&D is so costly!

Darcy said...

Ugh. Its not it's.

Chip S. said...

In Cookie's ideal world we'll be thanking the government for everything.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Sadly, no home grown tomatoes for us this year. We are redoing the raised bed garden and aren't able to plant anything.

We have dug down 3 inches all around and between the beds with a 4 foot perimeter around the area. Right now I've become very familiar with a flat shovel because the tractor can't get in between. Shovel dirt into a wheelbarrow and dump it into the pile. Blisters!! Next ground cloth and gravel and stepping stones.

The final step and the real reason is to build an attractive deer proof fence all around the perimeter. Something like this. Last year the deer ate almost all of my plantings except the garlic and shallots. They think my yard is an all you can eat smorgasbord. The little pricks.

So....no tomatoes :-( Maybe a friend will have some and I can trade plums with which we are going to be drowning in.

Roger J. said...

what palladian said re genuine italian canned tomatoes--unfortunately difficult to eat them out of hand, but they make the best sauce.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I used to toast bread and make a tomato sandwich with mayo and dill

Yummy. One of our summertime favorites.

Roger J. said...

Gotta tell you tomato lovers--Ripley tomatos grown in ripley TN are wonderful--of course they arent raised for shipment and are picked vine ripe--very local, but heavenly--I have been know to eat them with salt and pepper and out of hand like an apple--and as far as a tomato sandwich, I prefer basil rather than dill--but that a personal preference.

Damn--now I am ready to do a BLT--one of god's great gifts

Shanna said...

And no, tomatoes are not anywhere near in season around here.

But they are in season somewhere. You are probably not buying Vermont (?) tomato at the grocery store.

Roger J. said...

we have been blessed in the midsouth (Memphis) with a mild spring, no killing frosts and now we are looking at 100 degree days for the next ten days--tomato lovers rejoice.

tim in vermont said...

Well, if they are shipped, they are not the Styrofoam peanut variety, so that is something right there.

regarding the weather this spring, we had an early spring, then a frost, which came at a perfectly normal time, it just seemed late, and that was it for my apples :·(

One branch, that caught the early morning sun, has apples on it, on one tree.

Palladian said...

what palladian said re genuine italian canned tomatoes--unfortunately difficult to eat them out of hand, but they make the best sauce.

They do! In fact, I think the best tomato-based sauces can only be made with a combination of fresh tomatoes and canned Italian tomatoes.

I must also admit that I can eat them right out of the can, with a little pepper, mild vinegar, olive oil and coarse salt mixed in.

Do look for genuine Italian-grown San Marzano tomatoes, they're far better than American-grown canned tomatoes. And beware of these. They're NOT real San Marzano tomatoes, and they're not good at all.

Bender said...

Just because Congress labels them tomatoes doesn't mean the Court has to accept them as tomatoes

In addition to the non-purchase tax, why not make you pay a cigarette tax on those "tomatoes"? After all, labels mean nothing and if the Court says that what Congress calls a tomato will be arbitrarily interpreted as tobacco, then it can be taxed as tobacco (even when the tomato isn't grown by Homer Simpson).

Crunchy Frog said...

You'll know a tomato when you see it. Now the court can get going on the fruit vs. vegetable thing...

Knowledge: knowing that a tomato is a fruit instead of a vegetable.

Wisdom: knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.

Blue@9 said...

They do! In fact, I think the best tomato-based sauces can only be made with a combination of fresh tomatoes and canned Italian tomatoes.

Not me, I like mine with just fresh tomatoes. There's a good recipe to make a sauce in under 30 minutes.

But yeah, most of the store bought stuff is terrible. Homegrown or local heirlooms are the way to go.

Joe said...

The notion that home grown is better is laughable. The worse tomatoes I've ever eaten were home grown. Then again, I vastly prefer Roma and when I grew them, I couldn't tell the difference between them and the ones at my local grocery store.

chuckR said...

If you can harvest a tomato with a fork lift, it is not a very good tomato. The hide might make pretty good shoe soles though.

DCS said...

Here's the statement that leaped out at me:
"But were the genetically engineered tomatoes more flavorful? Because Department of Agriculture regulations forbid the consumption of experimental produce, no one tasted them."

It's your government again, there to help you.

Gene said...

When I was a kid in rural Pennsylvania my dad planted only Beefsteak tomatoes. They grew so big and fat a single slice would completely cover a slice of sandwich bread. Not that we willingly profaned them that way. Whenever we had the chance we would make open faced sandwiches with salt, pepper over three-quarter inch tomato slices on crusty Italian bread. My mother would say, "I'm not going to bother to cook, if that's what you're eating."

And after a snack like that what did we care?

Another reason my dad's tomatoes were so big and fragrant--we planted them with a small fish like the Indians used to do with corn. I diverted a small stream so that it ran along the uphill side of the garden, keeping the soil moist. When I mowed the lawn my dad had me rake it and put the clippings around each plant so no bare earth would show.

The plants grew so tall and lush you could walk down the rows between them with the vines arching over your head.

I've tried many times to duplicate that method here in Los Angeles. Not a prayer.

gadfly said...

Winter tomatoes that we get in our grocery stores and in fast food places are picked when they're bright green. Any hint of coloration is treasonous in a Florida tomato field in the winter. The industry says they're "mature green" and supposedly might develop flavor, but there's no way the pickers can tell the difference between mature and immature.

These green tomatoes are taken back to a warehouse, packed in boxes, which are stacked on pallets and moved into storage areas where they're exposed to ethylene gas. The gas forces the tomatoes to turn the right color; it doesn't ripen them.


So store tomatoes are picked green and turned red by ethylene gas. Mystery solved.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

I grew up convinced that I hated fresh tomatoes, because I never encountered them except on burgers and the like, and they were always dreadful. Then I went out to visit my parents in rural Maryland last August. Oh. My. God.

Mom would just bring in a basketful, slice them, add slices of fresh mozzarella & mint and basil leaves, and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Unbelievable. She was growing a bunch of varieties, of which Cherokee Purple was the standout, but really they were all fantastic.

So I'm trying to grow tomatoes for the first time. Of course, this is Oregon, sun's been in short supply, and I have to grow in containers because there's no place on this property where there's room to dig a bed and any sun at all in the same place. They've grown very well all the same, and have all flowered pretty well, though not set fruit yet. The varieties -- all heirlooms -- are Green Zebra, Momotaro, and Japanese Trifele Black. (I have high hopes of that last -- just when I thought it was never going to bloom at all, it set flower clusters in six different places.) They all need shoring up w/additional staking, I can see. When they say "indeterminate," they're serious.

Now if I could just figure out what's eating holes in the leaves of my peppers, and find a way to use excess herbs, especially mint (which luckily is in a "mint containment zone" bordered by concrete on all sides, otherwise by now it'd be the dominant species on the property), I'd be set.

Mel said...

I am growing heirloom Cherokee tomatoes in my back yard. They are purple and sweet and delicious. There are a couple of good heirloom yellows too, but I buy those at the farmers' market. The Cherokee purples are a hobby...a yummy hobby, but a hobby. I will freeze one at the end of the season, take it out in March and do it again next year...

Mel said...

Oh, and Michelle, someone up the thread mentioned marigolds...plant a couple in the pepper pot if there's room in a pot next door if there's not. That'll get run off the insects eating your pepper leaves...at least, my mom always said so.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Mel,

Dammit, I knew that about marigolds, but didn't think of it. The annoying thing is that I haven't been able to catch sight of whatever critters are doing the damage, just the damage itself. Two of the three peppers (the really hot one and the sweet one) seem to be taking their own sweet time getting around to blooming, while the intermediate-heat one flowered ages ago and has a handful of good-sized peppers on it already. Go fig.

The mint was just a whim when we moved here and there was this roughly 4'x4' square of bare earth surrounded by concrete by the side of the driveway. I figured even I couldn't kill mint, so I ordered a number of different plants from Richters in Canada. The first year they all flourished like crazy, and then something blighted most of them and they started dying on me. This year, though ... no. There was one partially-diseased plant early on, and I trimmed off the blighted bits; since then it's just been almost obscenely lush growth in there. About half of it is spearmint, growing absolutely everywhere except where I actually planted it last year, where it died and never returned. (There's a chocolate mint plant that I put in there this year that seems perfectly happy, so the spot isn't jinxed or anything.)

Dusty said...

Mel said...

I am growing heirloom Cherokee tomatoes ...

6/29/12 6:56 PM


Nice to see you mention this variety. It's a fantastic tomato. Creamy, smooth flesh, wonderful aroma, sweet and, I think, just the right juiciness. Sandwich lovers, one tomato can make a few sandwiches where it hangs over the edges.

I've seen pics that make it appear to have lots of seeds, but it's predominately flesh or at least the ones I get from the garden and I've grown them for years.

I'd also recommend the Abraham Lincoln and the Sioux. Try all three of these heirlooms out.

Margaret said...

Campari tomatoes from Sam's Club are small, but tasty -- we have good salads all winter with them and the red, orange, yellow peppers also purchased at Sam's.

TMink said...

You cannot purchase a tomato. You can purchase a fauxmato most places. But you can only grow an actual tomato, or be gifted one or even a few. They only grow in gardens, not on farms.

Trey