Getting tomatoes to taste “the way they used to”

Posted on 3 August, 2017

The sensory lab of the University of Florida is taking on a daunting task: trying to make tomatoes taste the way they used to.

The food industry’s priorities are already well known to many of us and the industry seems to have moved the actual flavour of products right to the end of its list, especially where fresh produce is concerned. Most producers are far more interested in other factors: for example, in increasing how much they produce, in producing bigger fruits and vegetables, and in improving how long the produce can look good on the shelves.

Now, thanks to a group of tasters, which includes volunteers as well as experts, the University of Florida aims to pinpoint the factors that make tomatoes taste good. The flavour in tomatoes sold in the vast majority of supermarkets today has all but disappeared, resulting in a bland, tasteless fruit, even on the American continent, where tomatoes originated.

Recent research has shown that the problem is to be found in the remodelling of the genes that make up the DNA of tomatoes. This means that the first step is to find the genetic combinations that do not result in tasty tomatoes.

Even so, the taste of food is not only determined by genetic factors. Our taste is also greatly influenced by the personal, psychological and physiological factors of each person, making it a very inexact science. For this reason, specific parameters are established for the volunteer tasters to follow. These are acidity, texture, sweetness and other characteristics specific to tomatoes. Measuring these factors gives us a more complete picture than a simple answer to whether the tomato in question is tasty or not.

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