Most people have never tasted a real tomato. By real tomato, I mean one grown here in Orange County, in an organic field, in good soil, properly fed and watered, ripened on the vine and picked in the height of the season so it is full of flavor. Its a different experience than tasting a tomato from the grocer.
Cosmetic breeding is the reason for tomatoes losing their taste. Industrial farmers are breeding tomatoes for uniformity and shelf stability, and this process is decreasing their natural sugar and flavor. To ensure that tomatoes last through the process of packaging and transportation, large farmers have to pick the fruit green, before it is ripe, and let it redden as it ships to the supermarket shelf.
To make this possible, these industrial farmers are breeding out a transcription factor, SIGLK2, reducing the plant’s chloroplast and leading to a uniformly light green tomato when unripe. As a consequence, the tomatoes have less natural sugar content.
Scientists who added the transcription factor SIGLK2 back in found up to 40 percent more sugars in the tomato and increased lycopene content. Lycopene is a key antioxidant that supports bone health and cancer prevention.
Considering that a plant is still transporting sugars and nutrients from its leaves to its fruit as it ripens, how much nutrient content are we missing out on when we get fruit at the grocer that was picked before it was ripe? You can’t miss the taste difference, but if that gap is an indicator of the nutrient content of the fruit, then we are missing out on a lot.
This week’s tomatoes are from South Coast Farm, grown in San Juan Capistrano and vine-ripened delicious. Their tomatoes taste so good you will want to hug the farmer. Happy tomato season to all.