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The Tasteless Tomato

If your senses have ever had the pleasure of smelling and tasting a farm-fresh, sun- ripened tomato, then you not only recognize the distinct tomato plant smell but you also know what a tomato is supposed to taste like. In stark comparison, there is a strange hue of red, plastic-textured versions of the tomato, imposters if you will, that exists. You can find them readily available at most mass market food retailers, even oddly out of season.

How do they take an innocent tomato and transform it into something, well, tasteless? It is a sad little story that starts with mass production and shelf life. Tomatoes are pumped with ethylene to induce dependable ripening. Additionally, in order to drone out consistently colored tomatoes, their genes are tapered with to rid the produce of any green splotches or patches in order to make it comply with shelf beauty contest standards.

Present in the naturally grown variety, these markings are actually a sign of chloroplast systems at work. Experts insist by taking out any green or patchy colorings they are forfeiting taste and nutritional value. In order to produce the natural sugar content that makes a tomato taste good, scientists have found that it needs a specific gene in order to optimally manufacture the chloroplasts, thus making the sugar. Altered tomatoes do not have the right gene variety and therefore make reduced chloroplasts.

Additionally, altered types are not as fragrant, either. Because of the lessened chloroplasts, they do not make the normal amounts of gasses that are associated with the tell-tale tomato smell. This altered recipe calls for less sugar, and therefore, less taste. Pair this with the way they are stored until they travel to their residency in stores, and if they are picked early or cold stored, and this will make them taste even less tomato-y

Apart from the taste, or lack of, there is also a nutritional deficit as well. Research from the United States Department of Agriculture found that tomatoes contain 30% less vitamin C and thiamin, 19% less niacin and as much as 62% less calcium than there were in tomatoes from the 1960’s. Though lacking in nutrients, they do have more sodium than those from decades ago, as much as 14 times more.

It is a sad reality of the produce aisle. And the tasteless tomato isn’t the only end result. How does the insufficient produce affect the systems of the people they are supposed to fuel, when compared to the nutritive value of the original? Some industrialized tomato farms are not too sweet, either. Corrupt production practices are still underway, consisting of bad working conditions and noxious pesticide exposures to produce and laborers.

So, if you have ever been unfortunate enough to buy, slice and try a sad little slice of tomato on a sandwich, or if you just see them sitting there odd-skinned in the produce aisle, don’t buy them. If it doesn’t look or smell like a tomato, it probably isn’t going to taste like one either. Remember that if you are lucky enough to have the choice, buy local. Also, consider buying produce from growers who utilize organic farming methods when available. These tend to use less harmful pesticides and more nutrient rich soils.

Making an attempt at growing your own tomato plants can be an exciting, and not too expensive, venture also. With the money you will save from not purchasing or having to throw out inferior tomatoes you could have a whole produce bearing plant.

The tomato is a good example of why it is usually best not to mess with perfection, especially in relation to Mother Earth. Profit over sense, sustenance and sustainability doesn’t equal good taste, in terms of the palate or ethics.

References

Kwok, R. (July 13, 2012). Tomatoes’ Tasteless Green Gene: Choosing tomatoes for color reduces fruit’s flavor, study finds. Science News for Kids. Retrieved from:

http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/2012/07/tomatoes-tasteless-green-gene/

Estabrook, B. The Indignity of industrial Tomatoes. Retrieved from:

http://grist.org/industrial-agriculture/2011-06-20-the-indignity-of-industrial-tomatoes-florida/

Resources

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/29/science/flavor-is-the-price-of-tomatoes-scarlet-hue-geneticists-say.html

http://www.exploratorium.edu/theworld/gm/taste.html

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