Scientists May Have Found a Way to Bring the Flavor Back to Tomatoes

Image: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Supermarket tomatoes don’t exactly pack a punch of flavor by comparison to their heirloom counterparts.

The bland little fruits are a little watery, a little sour and a little sweet, basically a shade of what their traditional varieties are.

But now, a team of scientists may be on the way toward making the typical tomato flavorful again.

The tomato’s fresh flavor has been lost over the course of about 50 years of breeding, according to Harry Klee, a co-author of the new study in the journal Science.

“We’re just fixing what has been damaged over the last half century to push them back to where they were a century ago, taste-wise,” Klee said in a statement. “We can make the supermarket tomato taste noticeably better.”

By mapping the genome of the tomato, the team of researchers was able to figure out how different versions of a tomato’s DNA affect its flavor.

The team was able to figure out which version of the flavor-packing genes give the tomato its good flavor.

Klee is hoping that the new research can be used to breed a new, more flavor-packed tomato for mass production.

The team of scientists think they could create a new, more flavor-rich tomato in about three to five years of breeding.

The researchers are staying away from genetically modifying the tomatoes directly even though it would be quicker due to public distrust of genetically modified crops and regulatory hurdles, according to the Associated Press.

A woman shops for tomatoes at a grocery store in Des Moines, Iowa.

Image: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

The new study isn’t necessarily the last word on tomato taste. Breeding new plants can be a difficult, unpredictable process no matter what genetic analysis goes into it.

“It is possible that some traits are not compatible and you cannot make the plant to behave exactly the way that you want,” Jose Ordovas, a nutrition professor at Tufts University who is unaffiliated with the study, told the AP.

The new study also won’t necessarily prevent chilled supermarket tomatoes from losing their taste, however.

Another study, also co-authored by Klee, found that the enzymes that give tomatoes their delicious flavor when fresh degrade when put into cold storage.

So, while it may make your tomatoes last longer, please don’t put them in a fridge. You’re destroying what you love.

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