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Crowd-sourcing Better Tomatoes

January 27, 2017

Researchers turn to panels of taste testers to identify key flavor chemicals lost during the past 100 years of commercial tomato breeding.

Transcript

tomatoes-ketchup-sad-food-160791 Pexels 712

Can a panel of taste testers help identify where commercially-grown tomatoes went wrong? (Pexels/Public Domain)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Reclaiming tomato flavor. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

If you bite into a sweet, juicy heirloom tomato fresh from the garden, you can’t help but wonder where supermarket tomatoes – with their mushy, tasteless flesh – went wrong. University of Florida researcher Harry Klee says the gradual loss of flavor was a side-effect of breeding for improved yield, disease resistance, and shelf life.

HARRY KLEE (University of Florida):

The problem is the consumer has been totally left out of the equation.

HIRSHON:

Klee and his team want to change that. They had people rate 160 varieties of tomatoes, and then identified the most important flavor compounds.

KLEE:

What we find is roughly half of the chemicals contributing to that flavor are really significantly down in the modern tomato. They’ve been lost.

HIRSHON:

In Science magazine, Klee’s team outlines a genetic blueprint for restoring flavor to commercially viable tomato varieties. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard