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Tasty Tomatoes

A flavorful tomato is a treasure, while the fruit that gets shipped across national borders and then ripened with ethylene gas is exceedingly tasteless. We tend to think that’s the price we must pay to have year-round produce. But now, scientists at the University of Florida say they have identified the exact chemicals, called volatile compounds, that make the difference in how good tomatoes taste.

The team, led by Professor Harry Klee, examined 152 types of ‘heirloom’ varieties to determine what makes the best tasting tomato. They publish their findings today in the journal Current Biology.

First, the researchers looked at the levels of sugars, acids and aroma volatiles – molecules that vaporise and release their smell into the air.

They then conducted a series of taste tests with some of the heirloom varieties, as well as supermarket-bought varieties, asking the volunteers to assess the level of flavour intensity, sweetness and sourness.

Comparing the results of the taste tests with the analytical readings, the researchers were surprised to find that the sweetest-tasting tomatoes did not necessarily contain the highest level of sugars. One particular type of apocarotenoid made the tomatoes taste sweeter.

The next step will be to develop varieties of tomatoes that produce an abundance of these compounds. I bet work will also go into developing synthesized compounds that can be used to add tomato flavoring to …well, anything. On the one hand, you’ll never convince me that anything is as good as a fresh, sun-ripened, backyard tomato. On the other hand, anything that makes out-of-season supermarket tomatoes taste better has my vote. Link -via reddit

(Image credit: me)

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May 28th, 2012

Stranger to the World


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