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A new study appears to suggest that the characteristics that make a tomato most appealing when choosing one at the store also make it the least appealing when biting into it. Apparently, it is the very same gene that can either make a tomato uniform or tasty, depending on whether it is "switched on" or not.

It sounds promising, if the industry picks up the study's suggestions. But not that I, the consumer, have this information, is there anything I can do to get a better product? Do I just look for uglier tomatoes?

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To be fair, I read a few reports of the same study, and it was based on the whole that I came to understand the study to be saying that the same gene that is responsible for uniformity also causes the flavor to be dulled. I'll change my link to another article that makes this clearer. –  Ray Jul 2 '12 at 10:11

3 Answers 3

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Picking a tomato which is individually ugly isn't going to help you. It's still the same variety and grown, stored and shipped under the same conditions as the other tomatoes in the pile.

Try looking for a store (farmers' and ethnic markets are good for this) which has a whole bin of ugly tomatoes; those are a different variety and/or handled differently. Heck, here in California, there's even a hybrid brand which is marketed under the name "Uglyripe", which is quite tasty.

Also, just "ugly" isn't a sufficient description. What you're looking for is irregularities in color, shape and size. Bruising, blemishes, wormholes and brown streaks don't indicate a better-tasting tomato, just one which has been abused.

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Don't believe in studies you read about in the newspaper.

Here's how science/medical reporting goes:

  1. Some researcher did some genetic research on tomatoes, that researcher wrote an academic paper in dense scientific language.

  2. Some journalist who knows nothing about science found the paper and after reading the abstract decided there's something newsworthy there.

  3. That journalist wrote an entire article based on a flawed understanding of what is essentially the first paragraph in a paper in a language he does not understand.

  4. Usually the journalists doesn't even call the researcher before publishing, even if he does he only picks one or two sentences that support the article's claim from the interview (the journalists is on a deadline and has to produce an exact number of words, if the topic is complicated and requires explanation it isn't good, if it turns out to be not newsworthy it's even worse).

  5. Once the findings are mis-published in one newspaper every other newspaper in the world quotes it like it's proven fact.

It's true that tomatoes from your local grocery store have a dull taste - but it's just as likely to happen because it has been picked prematurely days before they got to you and not due to genetic conditions.

You can run your own experiment - grow some kind of fruit or vegetable, pick one good looking fruit and eat it immediately and you get a very strong flavor, leave it in the refrigerator for 3 days and it tastes more like industrial food - pick it prematurely, store it for a week and drive it all across the country and you get the industrial taste.

Now, I'm not saying the newspaper article is wrong, what I'm saying is that science (and medical) coverage in newspaper is so bad and often wrong you should just ignore it.

if you want to see how bad it is this blog by a journalists who is actually a doctor covers bad medical news reports in UK - if you follow this blog for a while you will never believe any science related newspaper article again

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This all somewhat true, but at best, it demonstrates that newspaper reporting gives a random view of the science, not that you should assume it's wrong. The New York Times is on the whole substantially better than average, though, and the OP read a few other reports too. Additionally, the last sentence of the abstract of the actual paper: "SlGLK2 influences photosynthesis in developing fruit, contributing to mature fruit characteristics and suggesting that selection of u inadvertently compromised ripe fruit quality in exchange for desirable production traits." –  Jefromi Jul 8 '12 at 14:22
    
(That is, I think you're answering a specific question with a generalization that likely doesn't apply in this case.) Also forgot to note: the "u" selected for above is "uniform ripening". –  Jefromi Jul 8 '12 at 14:26
    
@Jefromi - the study shows that if you modify tomatoes in a specific way you get ugly tomatoes with higher sugar content - this does not automatically imply that heirloom tomatoes taste better and it sure doesn't imply ugly tomatoes taste better. –  Nir Jul 8 '12 at 15:45
    
@Jefromi - or, if we look at it from a different direction, science reports in the press are more likely to be wrong then right so the safest bet is to ignore them - and the number of reports doesn't matter since it takes one journalists to get it wrong and then everyone else quotes the same bad source. –  Nir Jul 8 '12 at 15:49

Tasty doesn't sell. Pretty does.

This is particularly true with tomatoes. Even if you can find ripe tomatoes in a store they will usually have inferior flavor. They weren't bred for flavor- they were bred to ship well.

As consumers we don't have a lot of choice when it comes to grocery store produce. You can try buying organic but that doesn't guarantee quality. You can look for local farmers who grow heirloom varieties. Around here there are produce co-ops where you basically subscribe for seasonal produce. Even these though are hit and miss and don't usually include heirloom varieties.

In my opinion, tomatoes are one of the vegetables with the best bang for your buck to grow at home. They are easy to grow, grow prolifically, and you can select varieties with more going for them than just being sturdy. My preferred heirloom seed source is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Growing your own also opens up a whole new world of vegetables that have not been homogenized by a century of industrial agriculture.
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4  
Wow. I've become a food snob! When did that happen? I blame all of you. –  Sobachatina Jul 2 '12 at 1:19
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Interesting essay, but I'm not sure how it relates to the question ... –  FuzzyChef Jul 2 '12 at 1:22
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I'll summarize. "Grocery store tomatoes are flavorless. Either find a local farmer or grow them yourself." –  Sobachatina Jul 2 '12 at 3:28

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