Fresh tomatoes are very flavorful, while store-bought ones sometimes don’t taste like much of anything. Why?
New research just published in the journal Current Biology answers that question.
“We now know exactly what we need to do to fix the broken tomato,” said Harry Klee of the University of Florida.
The flavor of a tomato depends on the sugars, acids, and aroma volatiles in it. This new research was done to identify which of these chemicals contributes to taste preferences the most.
The researchers first assembled chemical profiles of 278 tomato samples, representing 152 different heirloom varieties. Most of these varieties were bred before the commercial tomato varieties of today even existed.
The samples had a very wide chemical diversity, with variation in the aromatic volatiles between the different varieties as high as 3,000-fold.
The researchers then did a taste test with a consumer panel, using tomato varieties across the spectrum of chemical diversity. The panelists then rated the overall taste, the sweetness, the flavor intensity and the sourness. The panelists then did the same for commercial varieties.
Using a sophisticated statistical analysis of the tomato chemistry and the taste test results, they found the flavor intensity traces to 12 different compounds, and sweetness to 12 different compounds with 8 that also linked to overall flavor.
The researchers also found that some of the aromas increased the sensation of sweetness.
“In other words,” Klee says, “there are volatile chemicals unrelated to sugars that make things taste sweeter.”
The analysis also showed that some of the most common aroma volatiles didn’t contribute to the overall enjoyment of the tomato. And that many of the rarest and least common volatiles contributed the most.
“This is the first step to restoring good flavor in commercial tomatoes,” Klee says, and that could go a long way.
“Consumers care deeply about tomatoes,” he says. “Their lack of flavor is a major focus of consumer dissatisfaction with modern agriculture. One could do worse than to be known as the person who helped fix flavor.”