Red tomatoes are less sweetThe news flash of the week is a study out of the University of California at Davis which reveals that we have bred the flavor out of tomatoes in our search for tomatoes with a nice healthy red color. Really, this is the tip of the iceberg. Vegetables and fruits are bred for far flung markets these days, so selective breeding has been aimed at:

1- Creating more attractive fruits and vegetables that look better on supermarket shelves

2- Creating fruits and vegetables that can endure shipping over long distances

3- Creating fruits and vegetables that produce healthy yield and more profit per acre

I may have missed a few, but the obvious omission is flavor. If anyone cares about flavor at all, it’s well down the list below the factors above in modern agriculture. Most American taste buds have been dulled by overexposure to heavily salted and fatty processed foods, anyway, and can barely taste what they are eating anyway (just as well in most cases).

To today’s point is that scientists have once again confirm what we’ve known all along, that such breeding techniques do nothing for taste. They did go the extra step and identify the genes that offer us flavor – which unfortunately are the same ones that make tomatoes a bit green (and so have been bred out of most varieties). From the abstract at

Modern tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) varieties are bred for uniform ripening light green fruit phenotypes to facilitate harvests of evenly ripened fruit. Uniform ripening encodes a Golden 2-like (GLK) transcription factor, SlGLK2, which determines chlorophyll accumulation and distribution in developing fruit. In tomato, two GLKs—SlGLK1 and SlGLK2—are expressed in leaves, but onlySlGLK2 is expressed in fruit. Expressing GLKs increased the chlorophyll content of fruit, whereasSlGLK2 suppression recapitulated the u mutant phenotype. GLK overexpression enhanced fruit photosynthesis gene expression and chloroplast development, leading to elevated carbohydrates and carotenoids in ripe fruit. SlGLK2 influences photosynthesis in developing fruit, contributing to mature fruit characteristics and suggesting that selection of uniform ripening inadvertently compromised ripe fruit quality in exchange for desirable production traits.

Dr Ann Powell, who led the study: “This information about the gene responsible for the trait in wild and traditional varieties provides a strategy to recapture quality characteristics that had been unknowingly bred out of modern cultivated tomatoes. Now that we know that some of the qualities that people value in heirloom tomatoes can be made available in other types of tomatoes, farmers can have access to more varieties of tomatoes that produce well and also have desirable color and flavor traits.”

All good for that. The handful of people still left in North America who have functioning taste buds will be pleased.

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