Science 2 min read

Scientists Discover Why Grocery Store Tomatoes Taste So Bland

Ever wonder why your bolognese doesn't taste as good without your grandma's homegrown tomatoes? Now, thanks to a new food study, we finally know why.

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Ever asked yourself why store-bought tomatoes taste bland compared with the wild ones?

The scientists at the National Science Foundation’s Plant Genome Research Program had the same question too. That’s why they decided to look into the issue.

In a statement to the press, program director at the National Science Foundation’s Plant Genome Research Program, Clifford Weil began with the question:

“How many times do you hear someone say that tomatoes from the store just don’t quite measure up to heirloom varieties?”

According to their findings, a type of gene is responsible for flavor in tomatoes. And as you can imagine, 93 percent of the modern domesticated varieties of this vegetable don’t have this gene.

Missing Genes Make Tasteless Tomatoes

First, the researchers collected 725 wild and cultivated tomatoes and arranged them into a pan-genome – a biological map of the vegetable’s gene.

Next, they compared the pan-genome to that of a representative sample of domesticated tomatoes, Heinz 1706.

Based on the side-by-side comparison, the researchers noted that the reference genome of Heinz 1706 was missing almost 5,000 genes that are present in the other tomato varieties. As a result, the domesticated tomatoes lost its flavor alongside its ability to defend the body against pathogens.

The researchers explained that the Heinz 1706 did not lose these genes through genetic modification. Instead, the vegetable may have lost its flavor through good old fashioned breeding.

Plant geneticist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and lead researcher of the study, Zhangjun Fei said: 

“During the domestication and improvement of the tomato, people mostly focused on traits that would increase production, like fruit size and shelf-life. Some genes involved in other important fruit quality traits and stress tolerance were lost during this process.”

According to the analysis, the flavor gene present in wild tomatoes, called TomLoxC, uses carotenoids. Not only is the pigment responsible for the vegetable’s red color, but it also makes the tomatoes tasty.

While it used the flavor gene used to be present in 2 percent of tomato variety, researchers believe it’s making a comeback.

In recent times, breeders have focused more on the vegetable’s flavor. As a result, 7 percent of tomatoes variety in the market today has it.

We can only hope that the trend keeps growing.

Read More: How Vertical Farming Will Help Feed the Future

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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