Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Tale of Tasteless Tomatoes: Why Vegetables Do Not Taste Good Anymore (calmscience.net)
151 points by kafkaesq on Jan 29, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 136 comments

Wild tomatoes are small and unpleasant tasting, doesn't that kinda blow the premise?

The modern tomatoes we eat are genetically modified by humans through breeding which we like to call domestication. This genetic modification caused them to be bigger and taste pleasant.

My understanding was there was push to breed them to be uniformly red when ripe but this also caused a mutation to make them more bland, this occurred in the 1940's before "modern" genetic engineering, which incidentally no tomatoes currently on the market are engineered that I am aware of.

I always think it ironic to blame modern techniques like genetic engineering for all sorts of issues like somehow a cow, chicken, pig, tomato, corn or wheat are somehow "natural", these are all genetically modified organisms that would not exist without human tampering.

We have twisted nature for thousands of years to have higher yields and more desirable characteristics, if tomatoes are bland I would imagine we will twist them some more to make them flavorful again if the market demands it, but their "natural" "wild" cousins have never been tasty.

It's a shame that so many people fall for the trope of the anti-science hippie when it comes to criticism of modern farming.

Believe it or not, most of us who criticize industrialized farming techniques are not tinfoil-hat antivaxers, and understand very well what you describe. Thing is, there's no reason why modern techniques can't be used to produce foods that are more varied, nutritious and flavourful.

Instead we're getting bland produce, all the same two or three varieties, and increasingly devoid of any nutritional value because our backwards practices are destroying the very soil we use (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/soil-depletion-and...).

It's like in terms of food, we're moving towards an "everybody wears a silver onesie" future... scientific progress doesn't have to mean monotony.

In fact it's not progress. It's laziness on an industrial scale, and it's costing us our health (and one of life's greatest pleasures: food with real friggen flavour). So many of us have never tasted a real vegetable or piece of meat. (Ironically, in poorer, less industrialized countries like in South America, the meat is absolutely delicious -- visited last year with some friends; it was like they had never tasted meat before. Then I realised... they really hadn't!)

For a glimpse into what is possible using modern techniques, while still embracing flavour and variety, I highly recommend the Chef's Table episode on Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture.

I believe it's the second episode of the first season (available on NetFlix right now... the whole series is worth watching really).

Americans have bland palates so the producers get a way with this. In other countries, people wouldn't buy the tasteless tomato.

Its no surprise, most people pay by the lb. If there was some way to price by nutrition maybe people would optimize that way. Eg: 20c per 1000mg Vit C .

Some words and standards can indicate quality. "Pasture Eggs" for example, are more expensive but also a better product. Also, going to a farmer's market and buying from producers directly instead of a supermarket is one way to shop for quality.

I wouldn't want to use nutritionism as the definition of quality, because so far nutritionism has been too reductionist to capture the full picture. There's a wide variety of micronutrients that turn out to be useful, but are easily depleted from the soil in a monoculture. Are you getting your Vitamin K12? Selenium? Zinc? Copper? Choline? Are the animals you eat getting theirs?

While I agree with the idea that nutritionism is reductionist of complex systems, I see price per nutrition to be an improved model over price per lb. Maybe once upon a time price per lb made sense because not everyone could get enough lbs. But now we can get plenty of lbs, but not everyone can get enough nutrition.

On the nutritionism note, I also think we'll increasingly improve the model to a point where something like Soylent v315 will actually be superior nutritionally to any complex diet that a human could eat. Right now its so simple that you can do better with a chicken salad, but someday soylent may encompass phytonutrients, chemical supplements, nanorobots, pre/probiotics, factors based on your genetics, medicines prescribed etc etc... IMO the complexity of nutrition will eventually outstrip the typical human's ability (or will) to eat very complex "meals".

In Israel we would mostly get tomatoes or peppers that were considered too misshapen to export, but holy God they were freaking delicious. The heavily vegetable-based diet over there makes perfect sense when you consider how their vegetables contain actual flavor and nutrition.

I don't blame the techniques, I blame how we've chosen to use them.

If we chose to use modern techniques to make tomatoes as delicious and nutricious as possible, I have no doubt we'd have some damn delicious and damn nutritious (both at once!) tomatoes.

But they wouldn't ship or store well and wouldn't have as high a yield, so they'd be more expensive, at least under the current production and distribution economy.

So we've chosen to use those modern techniques to make tomatoes that store well, ship well, have a high yield, taste like crap, and have fewer nutrients.

One word (well, 5): hermetic, peeled San Marzano tomatoes.

Sure, they aren't fresh tomatoes. But they're super tasty, nutritious, store and ship well, and they're fairly cheap to boot. Try making a proper bolognese (proper, as in, start with frying up sofritto) using cans of San Marzano... O.M.G.

Conserved vegetables are awesome. Conserving even helps increasing the nutrient value by increasing bioavailability.

It's common knowledge among cooks that canned tomatoes are better than fresh ones.

The cool thing about these is they don't have calcium chloride in them so they properly fall apart when you cook them.

Tomatoes in the 1950s were already domesticated. Humans have been growing tomatoes since at least 500BC. Comparing them with wild tomatoes is irrelevant.

Industrial agriculture has brought about a radical increase in food yield over the last century, and there seems to be a corresponding, possibly correlated decrease in the nutrition.

We have twisted nature for thousands of years to have higher yields and more desirable characteristics

Undoubtedly. However, those desirable characteristics were about more than just yield. In industrial agriculture, however, you can't quantify "taste". You can, however, quantify "yield". So it becomes a case of ruthlessly optimizing for what you can measure, to the detriment of other, more subtle, characteristics.

You can quantify taste. Not precisely, sure, but taste testers are used in commercial food production.

Sure, for flavor engineering, but do they do it for raw produce?

A big part of the problem is that produce is seen as a commodity, and all the economic value is added by using cheap commodity ingredients in a highly tuned industrial process to create the most tasty and addictive food. The incentives are just all misaligned.

> Sure, for flavor engineering, but do they do it for raw produce?

They do it for QC samples of mass produced food. Perhaps it could be done for raw produce, then?

I don't disagree, the lag time for the market to respond to flavor is obviously much higher than something easily measurable like yield. However the solutions seem to revolve around going back to "natural" methods which are anything but, rather than simply making more genetic modifications to get the desired trait or perhaps needing more or different fertilizer.

The option is there to utilize the land less efficiently to get the same effect for some characteristics, but we may have to accept at some point feeding people on a modern scale may not be tenable with what is considered more "natural" or "organic" or whatever term is being used to ambiguously describe the techniques that are not natural at all in the dictionary sense.

If you grow your own tomatoes they taste amazing.

Also, to get the best sugar content, the thing to do is to leave them on the vine once ready and stop watering them, the stress causes the plant to dump its energy into the fruits.

They will taste better but if done commercially it extends the time to market and reduces shelf life.

When you grow your own vegetables you realise how low quality most of the ones in the supermarket are. And what a restricted set of choices there is.

This is very true, I remember taste of tomatoes grown by my grandpa 15-20 years ago, it's almost a different veggie. Same with strawberries I remember eating from bushes as a kid, didn't taste or look like the ones in the shop.

Cherries on the other hand are pretty good. Maybe because they grow on trees, which have much longer lifetime and therefore are harder to optimize for yield. Also seeing couple of cherry "farms" made me think it's a good idea - instead of pesticides, genetic modifications, in-house cultivation or whatever - they use gigantic mesh to protect them from unwanted animals and I think that's it. I don't know if it's a common practice or just few exceptions I've seen.

I have to voice disagreement on cherries. I grew up near a park with a ready supply of wild cherry trees, which I gorged myself on many a summer - compared to a big Bing cherry they have a really concentrated flavor and a juicer, less firm meat that would bruise pretty easily in shipment. I at least like them much more

You are mixing terms, resulting in pretty cheap rhetoric. If I tame wolves and chose their mating partners — it's breeding. Same with crops. It's not what people call "genetic modification".

If I cherry-pick genes of one organism, attach them to a virus and infect other organisms with that: now that's what is called genetic modification.

I won't argue which is better, it seems like a hot topic for some people. But I can completely understand how somebody is OK with the first one and not so much with the second. It's like a difference between choosing an engineer to construct your house, and making your own modifications to the final construction project. You have to be completely sure you know what you are doing to do the latter. Some people doubt we actually know what we are doing. Sometimes looking back it's hard to blame them.

Selective breeding is a form of genetic modification by humans, this is not rhetoric but simple fact. Domestic dogs are not wolves and they would not exist without humans having created them. The same goes for basically all edible tomatoes we eat today.

The term Genetically Modified Organism or GMO is thrown around without much thought to it's meaning. Why is selective breeding "natural" and therefore ok? Targeted gene insertion not? What about marker assisted breeding? What about directed mutagenesis? These all lie on a continuum but all are most definitely modifying genes based on human intervention.

And what happens when you irradiate the tomatoes, hoping for the DNA to change in ways that help? Using today's legislation, if the modification happened like that, the result is not considered GMO. That, along with completely random mutation, leave to novel genetics all the time.

So when we do it ourselves, we don't know what we are doing, but when we let randomness perform larger modifications, then we are 100% ok with it, and you can buy the output as certified organic.

If all the plants we ate had tightly controlled genetics, I'd understand the argument, but in practice, the most genetically consistent vegetables you can buy come from big agribusiness.

I personally don't see that much difference which is why I challenge anti GM people with the question: why do you see targeted gene mutation as being more dangerous / worse than random gene mutation?

Still waiting for a decent response to that.

Again, I don't want to take sides, as this "anti GM"/"pro GM" seems to be ridiculously religious matter in the USA, but since you asked, I guess I can answer.

The difference is, basically, that random mutations happen all the time since life on Earth has begun, they are relatively subtle, and, last, but not the least — unavoidable whether you like the fact that they happen or not. They are pretty close to definition of "normal", because that's just how carbon-based lifeforms (or, probably, any theoretically possible lifeforms at all) work. The result of any individual mutation might be not pleasant: child might be born defective or ugly, but that's… well, "natural". People tend to avoid unusual, so even though some ugly chicken with two peckers and one eye might be completely healthy food — many will think it's disgusting and won't eat it. And, as I said, random mutations cause relatively subtle changes in phenotype, so it would take many, many generations for such chickens to become normal even if we selectively breed them to have two peckers. Even single such mutation is something pretty unlikely without strong external influence, like high radiation or some chemicals. And if specie changes a lot during multiple generations — it becomes normal. If they survived through so many generations, and we still eat them: it somehow "works", one might think.

Genetic engineering, on the other hand, didn't happen for a couple of billions years until last century, is very much avoidable and immensely powerful. Consider making a pig glow through selective breading. Seems pretty unlikely, yeah? Well, it's simple now, if you tinker some with genome of a pig and a jellyfish. And that's just an illustration: possibilities of what you can produce are nearly unlimited. I don't want to quote Spiderman's uncle here, but I guess you get the point. One might not even actually think glowing pig is dangerous, but it's certainly suspicious. Which is more than sufficient reason to beware of something or to want to avoid it.

The best thing about living nature is that something, that can seem completely safe and uninteresting at first, might be a cause for something much bigger than it seemed. Like, you know, bringing a couple of rabbits to Australia[1].

As a side note, you should probably remember when arguing with those "anti GM" friends of yours, that thinking of something as dangerous isn't the only reason why somebody might not like something. Say, they might happen to not like green wallpapers — it doesn't necessarily mean they think green wallpapers are dangerous. They just don't want them, maybe for religious reasons or whatever. So if everyone suddenly starts producing only green wallpapers because it's simply cheaper, and any other colors become rare, ridiculously overpriced and are treated by sellers as a luxury product — they can become "anti-grean-wallpaper" very easily. In attempt to bring balance to the force, if nothing more. Add to that that not everyone is perfectly rational — which is kinda ok as well — and there can be infinite number of reasons why somebody might be anti-something.

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabbits_in_Australia

"Consider making a pig glow through selective breading. Seems pretty unlikely, yeah?"

Given enough iterations I am sure it is possible. A pig evolved from bacteria after all.

This has nothing to do with techniques. This has to do with what those techniques are used to create.

For instance. The difference in taste between a tomato I get in my already overpriced but well stocked supermarket here in NY and the tomato I pick up from a local farmer nearby is night and day.

One of them can litterally stand on it's own the other is bland and tasteless. They cost around the same.

The problem become when optimization get higher priorities than the result of the optimization.

I am well aware that there are many reasons why we don't want 100% organic farming unless we can do it at scale like conventional farming, but currently the difference in taste is night and day and if you care about that then it's a big deal and techniques can be used to fix it.

>caused a mutation to make them more bland, this occurred in the 1940's before

Then why do so many people alive today complain about the taste and texture, since most ought not even know what a pre-1940 tomato tastes like?

>I always think it ironic to blame modern techniques

Blame the abuse of selective breeding and genetic modification.

Yeah, we can make plants do whatever we want, we just have had the wrong priorities.

In addition to being bred for yield, there's shippability.

One of the biggest reasons tomatoes from the store taste so bad is that they're picked completely green. The second is that the commercial varieties are bred to have a pastier texture and be tougher to stand up to shipping. The third is that tomatoes don't stand up to refrigeration without a change in texture.

My uncle grows tomatoes commercially in southeast Tennessee. If you actually let the commercial varieties ripen all the way and don't refridgerate them, they're pretty good. They're better than the anything you can buy at a fancy grocery store. They're not as good as homegrown brandywines, but they're on par some of the popular hybrid varieties, and will beat out any store-bought heirloom (e.g. a store-bought brandywine).

However, when any tomato is picked to sell in bulk, they have to be picked completely green. Otherwise they'll be too badly bruised to sell. The "vine ripened" tomatoes you buy in the store just means that they cut off some of the vine along with the green tomatoes.

The site is down, so forgive me if I'm pointing out something that's mentioned there. At any rate, in my opinion, commercial tomatoes suffer more from being picked completely green so they'll survive shipping than anything else.

>> One of the biggest reasons tomatoes from the store taste so bad is that they're picked completely green.

You are buying from the wrong stores. Tomatoes can be easily grown locally in greenhouses, negating any reason to pick them green. This is where my costco tomatoes come from. Note they are not green when picked.


And they just taste so much better then those USA grown beef-steak ones you can get in the supermarket. They arn't the best, but they have actual flavour and i find are pretty good.

I wonder if something similar happens with avocados - even the "ripe" ones sold in stores normally feel hard enough to smash a window.

Are people planning on making guac buying a week ahead of time?

Avocados are tough to keep at a consistent firmness. Left on the shelf, they go from rock solid to bruised mush in no time. What I do personally is buy ten at a time and leave them out to ripen. When each one is just about to be ripe, I put it in the fridge, where it stays consistent for weeks. As supply dwindles (I eat about one a day on average) I overlap by getting another 10.

Stores should really start doing this themselves... wait until they're just about ripe, then package them in sealed containers (so shoppers can't poke and bruise them) and keep them refrigerated. Obviously more effort which will add to the cost, but I'm guessing the average consumer would happily pay a bit more to get ripe avocados on demand. Otherwise you either have to really plan ahead or go on a search for the rare unicorn that is a ripe one.

Interesting - I'll have to give that a try!

How do you tell when to fridge them? Slightly mushy?

They are slightly tender and the stem can be wiggled a bit. Beyond that, I don't know how to objectively quantify it, but if you know what a perfectly ripe avocado feels like, it's about the same or just a little bit less. They might ripen in the fridge another half-day's worth. And if you don't know that, trial and error will quickly converge to an optimal solution within a few tries.

Avocados have to be harvested green since there is only about a 45 minute window of ripeness before they are hopelessly rotten. /s

Yes, it's not breeding for yield that makes them tasteless, it's breeding to make them hard so they can move through our industrial supply chain.

Do you know about canned tomatoes?

I'm not 100% sure on this, but my understanding is that commercial canned tomatoes are more likely to be picked ripe.

The reason is that canned tomatoes usually come from the leftovers and blemishes. When they pick a field of tomatoes (green), quite a few are left behind due to being too small, strangely shaped, etc. These are usually allowed to ripen. From what I understand, those are what canned tomatoes most often come from, as they're the cheapest.

No one cares if a misshaped or bruised tomato gets canned. It will still taste about the same. Therefore, you can ship the tomatoes closer to ripe, as you're not worried about bruising.

On a side note, canned tomatoes are actually usually very good if you buy a respectable brand. The bargain brands vary a lot more. Honestly, unless it's late summer and I can get great tomatoes, I make salsa from canned tomatoes instead of fresh. (Note: this is for things where I'd be fire-roasting the fresh tomatoes anyway.)

Canned tomatoes are picked ripe from the field and shipped directly to the canning facilities via large semi trucks and trailers. My dad used to work at one of these facilities to which one of my best friends growing up is the son of then President of the company. His older brother now runs the plant.

if it's s&w brand I hope they go back to selling the large cans of peeled whole tomatoes. I used to love making pasta/pizza/enchilada sauce using their 6lb can of whole tomatoes from costco for around $2.50 a can.(had a really nice tart and sweet taste) I haven't found a decent alternative since they stopped making those that isn't the San Marzano super sweet tomatoes and that don't cost an arm and a leg.

Unfortunately it is not that company. Good luck finding a replacement though.

What do you want to know about them?

I grew up in South Florida which is not a good growing climate for many "classic" North American fruits and vegetables.

I didn't understand the popularity of tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, peaches, or pears until I moved north and tried them at farmer's markets or from wild growth. I didn't even understand the relationship between the actual foods and the artificial "candy flavor" versions until I tasted the real things. That's how far the commercial varieties have diverged.

On the other hand, I miss a lot of the tropical fruits and vegetables that I had growing in my neighborhood down there.

Peaches. Peaches fresh from the tree. Picked when they're fully ripe and ready. Peaches from Southern Illinois. Oh my god. They are, quite literally, the best things you will ever eat.

Calhoun County, Illinois. I suggest you go in August/September just to purchase peaches. It is a backwards, hillbilly part of the country.

But god-damn are they good.

Well this is prima facie bad, but actually we're not in such a terrible spot as a society: the bulk of supermarket chicken and beef might be corn-fed, bland, watery mush these days, but it's a hell of a lot cheaper than it ever used to be, and that means that a wider segment of the population can afford reasonably good meat on a regular basis. Better nutrition means healthier kids who can do better in school, and you know the rest. The stuff isn't bad, it's just not as good as it used to be. But neither is it as exclusive as it used to be either.

Those of us with more money still have the option to buy tasty, grass-fed beef steaks from niche producers. It takes more effort of course. Quite often I find that arguments against bland, cheap, tasteless food are really about unrealistic people expecting cheapness, high quality, and great convenience. You can't have all three!

Of course, it is good to have realistic expectation and not bite the hand that literally feed you. But were comes this above reproach that the food industry enjoy ?

> Convenience, High Quality, Cheapness you can't have all three.

What about ... everything else that is usually discussed here on HN. The food industry is as bad as the oil, banking, car, movie and music. It is generating a enormous amount of money, concentrated in few hands, is repeatedly involved in scandal, benefit from opaque government protections and regulations. There is 0 reason to think that the food that reach our table, is anything close to an optimum.

It's true but it still means we could do better by trying to optimise for nutrition value as well - which seems to somehow hidden from us. You often don't taste or see nutrition value.

Also what does it mean for food recommendation if one strawberry has completely different vitamins/minerals/etc than the other one? Eating strawberry A and B means completely different things now. "One fruit a day" or "One cheap fruit a day + supplement pill"?

Well, we've optimized for yield (=> cost) exclusively. Taste and nutritional value are other axes. In a way you're saying the same thing as the article - that it's a shame to focus only on yield.

To answer your question, I think its important to first understand whether the nutritional gap between zero strawberries and modern strawberries is much greater than that between modern strawberries and old-fashioned low yield tasty strawberries. My opinion (worth nothing of course) is that it's better to have some fruit than no fruit, and high yield, cheap produce allows that.

I remember when I was a kid (Back in my day :-)) roast chicken was an expensive Sunday treat. Then at some time they become really cheap and you could eat chicken whenever you wanted. Now no one bothers roasting their own chickens, they're all cooked for you.

Funny thing is roasted chickens are a loss leader and often cheaper than the raw ones. If I could get an organic pastured chicken preroasted as a loss leader I would, but usually the $5 bird has broken bones and a weak taste.

Depends where you live I suppose, Have a couple of local chicken shops that make great roast chickens, and of course supermarket ones nearby. I'm in Australia though, and I suspect our experience is different from the US.

Unless tomatoes are in season and I’m in some sort of hipster farm-to-table restaurant, I’ll always hold the tomatoes or put them to the side, and inevitably a companion will ask why I don't like tomatoes and I wind up in an argument over whether or not tomatoes are supposed to taste like water.

It's dismaying. Do Americans think that the flavor of tomato sauce is an additive?

Alton Brown had a good layperson-friendly bit about this in Good Eats but I can't find the episode on YouTube… anyway it worths.

> Do Americans think that the flavor of tomato sauce is an additive?

Yes. Everything here is an additive. Tomato sauce is "tomato flavored sauce." Butter is "butter spread." Etc. A bit of an exaggeration, but when you buy packaged food, look at what it's calling itself. If you think you're buying NOUN, but the label says NOUN OTHER, then you're buying OTHER, with flavor or other essential attribute added that may or may not be based on NOUN.

Enjoy your cheese spread.

Another variation I've seen (in eastern Europe at least) is cheating by omission.

They make it look like a NOUN, they wrap it like a NOUN, they name it with some nicely-sounding brand name, and do not write what it is, because it looks like a NOUN, so it must be NOUN, right? In the fineprint there's the explanation: not margarine, but "hydrogenated fat product", not ice cream, but "glacial dessert product", not a chocolate, but "chocolate-like product" etc.

In the U.S., a lot of name-brand "ice cream" doesn't even meet the legal definition of ice cream, so they have to call it "frozen dairy dessert"... including most of the Breyer's line (years ago, they were sort of premium).

But stay away from Three Twins' Orange Confetti, lest you be lost to addiction. It's sorta like crack, but at least crack doesn't have calories or carbs or fat.

As I was reading the original article, I wondered if the FDA has any regulations about this sort of stuff ("What constitutes a tomato? When is something no longer a tomato?")

I did find a bit about naming different types of canned tomatoes[1]. I would have had no idea that there is such a difference between "tomato paste" and "tomato puree" and they even have regulations about how many seeds and peels and such can be in the can.

So, even reading all the ingredients and everything on the can, there may be some hidden terminology you may not know about in the way the food is named. Very interesting.

[1] http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/cfrs...

lol. Regarding the tenuous connection between tomatoes & ketchup, a friend of mine once posed me the question: "have you ever tasted a tomato that tasted anything like ketchup?".


> Regarding the tenuous connection between tomatoes & ketchup, a friend of mine once posed me the question: "have you ever tasted a tomato that tasted anything like ketchup?".

Ketchup evolved as an English approximation of a Southeast Asian pickled-fish-based condiment which ended up using mushrooms and later tomatoes because of availability. Its not really intended to taste like tomatoes, its supposed to use tomatoes and other ingredients to taste like something almost completely unlike tomatoes.

Ketchup is a combination of tomato paste, vinegar, and sugar however.

Tomato paste is where you go if you need a pure tomato taste.

> Ketchup is a combination of tomato paste, vinegar, and sugar however.

And clove! Can't forget that.

  Ketchup is a combination of tomato paste...
generally made from the worst, otherwise-unusable tomatoes.

While part of the flavor of ketchup can be attributed to other ingredients and their preparation, it's possible some of the flavor may be attributable to the tomatoes they use, at least for Heinz ketchup: Heinz has their own cultivar of tomato. (It's open source[1].) The flavor may be wonderful in tomato form. Who knows?

Related Nature article: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v485/n7400/full/485547a...

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/assembly/GCA_000188115.2

Along those lines, "properly made" (aka homemade) ketchup tastes only vaguely like the commercial brands. So much so that I can't get my own kids to eat my home made ketchup :-(

That's because Heinz is perfection.

Edit: how about this clip? http://www.foodnetwork.com/videos/choosing-tomatoes-0157352....

Most likely season 2 episode 11 "Pantry Raid II: Seeing Red" or season 6 episode 6 "Tomato Envy". Food Network takes down most Good Eats episodes on YouTube because they sell some of them for $2 each. Here's a crummy version of Seeing Red that may be deleted soon https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FNWPtKtKPc and Tomato Envy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gq2tifYVEdY

I think tomatoes are often added for color instead of flavor.

The OP makes many assumption about food, chief among them being that flavor is always a good thing. I also wonder which type of tomato he is buying. Some are designed for size alone. Others (roma+cherry) have much more taste, especially those grown all year in local greenhouses rather than those picked green and shipped in. Even in the depths of a canadian winter, the tomatoes I buy at costco were picked the previous day at a facility a few miles down the road. They taste great.

>> Plain yogurt is tasteless.

Yogurt's lack of flavor is nothing to do with the milk. "Plain" yogurt is meant to taste as plain as possible so that flavors can be added to it. It's like vodka. The goal is consistency rather than amount of flavor. It's the difference between tasting a food and tasting an ingredient.

Very high quality dairy has a very nice flavor of its own, as does vodka. I've had very small production half and half in the San Juan islands that tasted exactly like vanilla ice cream. Butter often tastes different in France. I've also been told the Greek yogurt in Greece is completely unlike anything sold in the US and much much better.

Edit: I'm in SF and routinely buy local, organic, blahblahblah. I've still had better dairy elsewhere.

Yoghurt in the US has been completely destroyed by the "non-fat" movement. It's the fat that makes it yoghurt. Low-fat or non-fat yoghurt is a contradiction in terms!

The "yoghurt" you can buy in supermarkets here is sugared milk with artificial thickeners, it's madness.

> Yoghurt in the US has been completely destroyed by the "non-fat" movement.

No, it hasn't, because you can still get other-than-nonfat yogurt, both full fat (sometimes labeled as 4% fat, which is certainly a response to the anti-fat movement) and low-fat (2%); I have yet to see even a poor-quality supermarket that doesn't have full-fat yogurts (though the most common offering and the one with the greatest variety of choices seems to be low-fat, but still not non-fat.)

I recently had the horrifying experience ;) of seeing non-fat half-and-half. Seriously, what's the point?

As for yogurt I pretty much do not buy supermarket brands anymore. There's a European imported food store in town that sells some fresh items, among them Greek yogurt. The stuff is like paste, and it's fantastic.

Most of the national brands make whole fat yogurts with no added sugar or thickeners.

> Edit: I'm in SF and routinely buy local, organic, blahblahblah. I've still had better dairy elsewhere.

Organic is basically irrelevant as far as I can tell. The type of the cow and how it's handled makes a huge difference, though.

Have you tried St. Benoît milk? It's available at a bunch of farmer's markets in the bay area, and most Whole Foods and well as a handful of other stores carry it. It's 4% milkfat (it's from actual Jersey cows!) and rivals any milk I've tasted abroad for flavor.

And 'buy local' - it may not mean anything at all. My Manhattan friend buys 'local' which means grown in the Adirondacks. Over 250 miles away.

Actually, I consider that a pretty good "local" for New York City. It's probably 40 miles to the city limits alone.

The point of "local" is "shippable from harvest to store in 24 hours" instead of "put into the food distribution chain for 2 weeks".

There are lots of points. One is to support local farmers, so you can create a relationship with them. Around here (Iowa) I know the folks who I get eggs and meat from; several cheesemakers are in the immediate area and supply our grocery stores. Bread is baked in town by folks I know. And so on.

I think I might have one but can't remember. Usually quite expensive. But I'll give it a try next time...

If you are in anything resembling a mid-sized city, you can get 'real' greek yogurt pretty easily in the US. Among the national brands, yeah, they're pretty anemic. The good stuff is halfway to cheese, consistency wise. It should be fresh, and it's easy pie to make at home.

I don't know about 'much much better'...maybe just one 'much'.

>If you are in anything resembling a mid-sized city, you can get 'real' greek yogurt pretty easily in the US.

As long as you stay out of Walmart and Costco. Trying to find full fat yogurt in those stores in Montana is a futile effort.

I haven't been to Greece, but my friend who has (and reported its much much better) and I are coastal (SF, Boston, Nyc) and shop at whole foods "and higher."

High quality is a matter of opinion. If you are selling yogurt to people as is, then "plain" should have some flavor. But if you are adding things to the yogurt you care more about consistency. Lack of flavour is an easier starting point, as with vodka used to mix drinks.

roma & cherry do not taste like much to me anymore after having tried fresh oxheart (cuor di bue) on vacation, it really ruined tomatoes for me, a really dark purple heirloom variety I got a few times at whole foods was close, but still not as good.

I can only try to imagine what heirloom actual fresh tropical fruit tastes like, but of course that wouldn't travel well so it's not available.

This year even whole foods up here in Canada seems to be stocking produce based on price as opposed to quality, what with conventional mandarins/clementines (treated with several scary sounding .......zole compounds) or organic ones coming all the way from China (really? can't find any in California?), I really miss the organic "pixie tangerines" (some heirloom variety I assume) that they stocked until last year, but they were expensive and occasionally you found a moldy one and so probably they were nixed.

I wonder how much of the push towards tasteless ageless produce is due to customers absolutely never ever wanting to be faced with a spot of mold or a bad potato or whatever, I'd rather have flavorful produce where I have to toss 15% due to issues when I get home rather than the bland cardboardy "perfect" one that's widely available now.

I'd rather spend money on quality ingredients than on other things (also due to the fact that I cook 100% of my food from scratch ingredients), but likely unfortunately I am in the minority so even "niche" retailers like whole foods are likely going to cater less to my preferences.

It's always interesting to see what happens when something is optimized for the "wrong" metric.

No consumer would actually say they want worse tasting tomatoes, but consumers as a whole clearly made that choice by buying only cheap and firm tomatoes. Same with farmers, they didn't want bad tasting tomatoes, they just wanted to make a profit and knew that the market responded positively to tomatoes that were red, firm, ship well, and stayed "good" long enough for the retailers.

So one of the things going on there is that firmness and redness used to be signs of a good-tasting tomato -- because it was just the right amount of ripe, not under or over. Customers don't normally get to taste tomatoes before they buy them, they have to use firmness and color as a proxy.

So they bred tomatoes that can be very firm and very red with almost no relationship to actual ripeness, and taste terrible.

In that case, it's more of a trick than customers showing a preference for firmness or color over taste.

But you're right, I think, that customers will generally choose cost over taste, or over almost anything else, in the aggregate over the long-term anyway.

Another example is the yellow in cheddar cheese.

Apparently the yellow-ish color was originally a mark of high-quality milk from grass-fed Jersey and Guernsey cow. Now they use annatto and other spices/dyes to add color to the cheese.

Essentially, when the consumer doesn't have complete information they will have to make purchasing decisions based on proxy information. As you note, this can lead trickery from the person selling the product.

That's really funny, considering how in my family, white cheddar was always the "realer", more high-quality kind, whereas we assumed yellow cheddar to be highly-processed and made of whatever.

> So one of the things going on there is that firmness and redness used to be signs of a good-tasting tomato.

Is it that or just that firmness and redness are correct signs of "will last until I get it home from the store and use it for dinner in a few days"?

"last" how? Some would say grocery store tomatoes start out unfit for consumption.

Related: How Tomatoes Lost Their Taste (2012) http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2012/06/how-tomatoes-lost-the...

A lot of tomatoes grown and sold in Europe are also tasteless.

In the UK, most supermarket tomatoes are imported from The Netherlands or Spain (two of the largert exporters of tomatoes in Europe). The tomatoes are mostly tasteless, regardless of the variety. Even the organic ones have only a little bit more flavour.

So tasteless tomatoes aren't just an American phenomenon, they are common in Europe too. That's what modern, mass-procuded agriculture gives us: tasteless, low-cost produce all-year round (because price mostly trumps other factors for many, if not most, consumers)

I used to live in Berkeley, CA, and both "alt" groceries (Monterey Market and Berkeley Bowl) sourced wonderfully flavored tomatos- many different kinds, from juicy salad tomatos to beefy paste tomatos. The prices were not higher than the supermarket, and they tasted far better.

People told me farmer's market tomatoes were better. So I bought them several times and sometimes they were better, sometimes not. Then, I discovered "early girl" tomatoes and they blew my mind. Very limited growing season though.

Food snob mode: there are some growers in some areas that grow "dry-farmed" early girls. It pushes the season much later in the year. The best I've ever tried, by far, are in Palo Alto at the downtown farmer's market. They're available for a fairly long season in the fall.

This past summer, the local real-estate company dropped off a tomato plant, which they do every year. I planted it and largely forgot about it throughout this dry year, just watering it enough to keep it alive. It grew small (about 2" diameter), very firm, amazingly flavorful tomatoes. I have no doubt the RE company picked whatever plants were cheap and I have no idea what breed it actually was, but the unintentional dry farming made it awesome.

Having lived in Japan more than 10 years ago, that's the first thing I commented coming back. Why fruits and vegetables were way more delicious there than here. I loved fruits in japan where here its more of a chore when I ate them because I already assumed the bland taste before even biting info it.

This makes total sense.

I prefer my science to be anecdotal, don't you?

I've heard most people do.

Did you completely miss the study he was talking about?

Supermarket carrots and other vegetables are also bred to withstand rough mechanical harvesting and not bruise, at the expense of flavour. The solution is to pick tasty breeds of carrots directly at the farm, and store them in a root cellar over winter.

This may already be a thing, but rather than focusing on organic-ness or price, I wonder if there is a market for vegetables developing and deliberately focusing their promotion on enhanced nutritional content?

I would like to see the same thing for beef, eggs, milk, butter, and other dairy products specifically focused on "grass-fed" vs. "grain-fed". I've seen a handful of imported products that make this distinction, but not as many as I thought I would find when I searched for it locally.

What is this calm science bullshit that keeps popping up here?

This is yet another retarded opinion post with nothing to back their claims.

So fertilisers are bad? And lack of nutrients in food is bad too? If there is not much nutrient in the fruits, it only shows that enough fertilisation was NOT done to the soil.

It is absolutely possible to increase yield while maintaining nutrient contents. It is done by fertilisation with increasing yields. Unfortunately, people don't check the nutrient contents while purchasing fruits and vegetables. So, investing in more fertilisation does not give them return of investment.

The ONLY thing customers care about is looks. So, the producers are optimising for looks and looks alone.

It is possible to optimise for taste and nutrition. But when there are more easy and more retarded ways to sell products like calling them "natural" or "organic" or "non-GMO". As long as retarded cuntards like the author are alive and purchasing such products, this is not going to change. The world will just have to wait for these imbeciles to die out and new generations of intelligent people replace them.

I always wondered why tomatoes and onions tasted different in some other country. I specially remember the tiny little tomatoes and the tiny little onions. Nothing looked perfect, but it all tasted amazing and I realized when I had the very first bite of my sandwich and salad, it was all flavorful. Glad I know why.

100 years ago, calories and yield were more important than nutrition. In some areas, just getting enough calories is obviously more important.

General nutrition information is getting better every year, and I think in the next 5-10 years, there will be a mainstream discussion over this issue.

Sadly the site is dead, but the gist of it was that modern produce production demands have increased yield and reduced cost dramatically, at the cost of flavour and nutrition - the anecdotal example being watery flavourless tomatoes.

Or 'garnish' as they are otherwise known.

Relatedly, I've always wondered how the commodities markets handle this sort of "Goodhart-style" problem: what counts as a tomato? When they started doing futures and forward contracts for tomatoes, everyone understood them to be "that tasty thing".

But then the participants (as expected) game the system, doing the minimum necessary to deliver 5000 "things that count as tomatoes". And so the taste and nutrition drift.

Do they have some rigorous definition of when the tomato isn't good enough? Can you define it so that there isn't this drift?

at the cost of flavour and nutrition

The good news is that it isn't necessarily a trade off, it's just that commercial breeders have ignored flavor and nutrition and focused on productivity and suitability for transport. So we might get vegetables that still work well for modern supermarkets while tasting better.

However, there likely is a tradeoff between taste and nutrition. Nutritious compounds can often have a bitter taste, while sugar is often said to be unhealthy.

I enjoyed your phrase "often said to be unhealthy."

I'm glad the nutrition field is willing to admit errors and update guidance. I'm a little disappointed with the high frequency.

I did 30 seconds of research, and found out dietitian and nutritionist are not synonyms. Dietitians seem to use nutrition to achieve specific medical or performance outcomes. In that context, it makes sense to have lots of changes as the bleeding edge advances.

Dry-farmed tomatoes (of any variety) are my personal favorite.


American yogurt is bland because if you let it ferment all the way it's got a kick that Americans tend not to like. Has very little to do with the milk, and everything to do with lactic acid.

So around here, in Elbonia, it's still pretty common for people to grow their own stuff in the countryside. My grandmother still grows her own vegetables and still raises chicken.

She doesn't use fertilizer, but the conditions are quite ideal for a lot of vegetables, including -- yes -- tomatoes.

The difference is astounding. Simply slicing one or two tomatoes is enough to make my whole kitchen smell like tomatoes. My palate is so accustomed to supermarket chicken that I literally cannot eat the ones she raises. I have to drown the meat in spices -- the flavour is so strong (and pretty different from that of "mass-produced" chicken) that it makes me vomit. Fortunately, I don't have that trouble with her tomatoes.

The catch is, indeed, that the yield is fairly low. There's no such thing as more than one crop per year, either -- she has tomatoes throughout the summer, but that's it. The only exception are cherry tomatoes, which will sometimes grow another generation of fruit in early autumn, and they ripen pretty fast, but that's it. Also, the ripening process is fairly slow; by mid-autumn or so, there are still enough unripe tomatoes for her to pickle a few jars.

(What, you don't pickle tomatoes when they're green in the States? You have no idea what you're missing!)

That being said, their color is pretty uniform. I don't have a picture right now, since they're out of season, but they really look OK, most of them are no different, in terms of look, from what you can see in supermarkets. Sometimes they grow in a somewhat weird shape (e.g. some of them get rather bulgy, but maybe that's a distinct cultivar, I don't know; others look perfectly round) but, if you allow them to ripen, they're pretty uniformly red. However, at that stage they're basically impossible to sell in supermarkets or even at farmers' markets, they'll go bad within days of being picked, even if you refrigerate them. People basically pick them right before a meal (worst case scenario, they'll pick a bunch in the morning so that they can chill in the fridge for an hour or two -- summers are pretty hot here, so if you pick them before lunch, you'll be eating really warm tomatoes).

Edit: I've seen someone here claiming that plain yogurt is supposed to be plain.

Fuck no. Plain yogurt is so thick, soury and flavourful that, unless you've grown up with it, it's an acquired taste. My grandmother never raised cattle -- I first tasted plain, home-made yogurt at one of her relatives in a remote-ish village when I was 14 or so. I hated it, despite having eaten plain yogurt from the supermarket before, and it took me a whole summer to get accustomed to the taste. It's also incredibly filling, you can't eat more than a bowl.

> (What, you don't pickle tomatoes when they're green in the States? You have no idea what you're missing!)

In some spots, I know of it in Atlantic Canada and some southern states where green tomato relish or chow is made (it might be an Acadian dish originally, not sure). It's delicious, often served with fish.

>>(What, you don't pickle tomatoes when they're green in the States? You have no idea what you're missing!)

I am SO doing this. I love pickled things, and have never seen this in the States. Thanks for the mention. I look forward to a tasty treat.


Of the 600,000 food items currently in the American grocery store, 80% of them have added sugar, the statistics get worse as you look at restaurant menus.

The delta between a great tomato and a good tomato is nontrivial but insignificant compared to the delta between any tomato and a Coca Cola.

Perhaps this is an inevitable result of commoditization, i.e., futures contracts on bushels of corn on commodity markets.

It always astonishes me to see graphs of yields for all these different plants and animals skyrocketing upwards under the pressure of selection on additive genetic variation, despite their totally different biologies, lifecycles, and even optimizing for different things (egg vs milk vs muscle).

To be clear, the author pins this on GMO, but the article he cites mentions no such thing.

Not entirely related to this pretty spot on article but I have also heard another hypothesis, that, as we get older our taste buds diminish which makes us think things don't taste as good as they used to.

Hmm, I don't think I'd buy that our taste buds diminish that much. I picked up one of those "small farm" tomatoes and it was incredible. Now if you've been a smoker then your taste buds absolutely suffer for it.

There was a book about this: Tomatoland.

It's depressing in the extreme.

"In the 1940s, a cow produced over 16 pounds of milk per day."

A relation of my wife is a canadian dairy farmer. He spends almost more of his time poring over the genetics of his cows, their productivity and exactly which sperm he will buy for her next calves.

It's a major upset when a male is born (they're killed after a few days and sold for rendering, probably for dog food.) Any sperm will get a cow pregnant, a 400$ insemination is only worth it for the potential cow sale...

That's cause his biggest source of revenue isn't the milk, it's the cows that produce more, fatter milk than any of his neighbors' on less feed per pound of milk.

And so they're inbred as hell with a handful of bulls (if that) fathering all of his cows and their mothers for multiple generations. But they sure produce a lot.

I feel like drinking milk from a herd of consistently inbred cows is one of those things that will seem obviously dumb looking back when something catastrophic happens[0].

[0]I don't know - nationwide distribution of spongiform-milk slurry, aka zombie serum.

Drinking cow's milk at all, inbred or otherwise, will most likely be viewed as a completely ridiculous notion one day.

Some people already view it as a ridiculous notion, so you're not far off.

This is going to sound like trolling, but it isn't meant to be: Why are some people passionately averse to milk?

Personally, I've always seen cow's milk as the quintessential drink of Western Christendom: something that Germans, Scots, Englishmen, Scandinavians, Celts (from the Hebrides all the way to Navarre and Galicia), and provincial Frenchmen consume, but that's all but unknown among foreigners -- including the predatory, Viking-descended aristocracies in London and, especially, Paris. (The English upper class proverbially never trusted an adult who drank milk; the French upper class hardly even remembered that it existed, except as a precursor to cheese.)

My theory is that those who hate milk see it in the same way as I do, but don't share my fondness for Western Christendom. The old-money "Northeastern establishment" in the United States never quite forgave God for how His Book is fine with slavery; Jews and Germans always did feud, but these days the Jews have very good reason to be frightened when they hear talk of traditional voelkisch German-ness (which in any case never did like them); eastern and southern peoples, not all of whom can consume milk in the first place, might reasonably regard milk as a symbol of a society that was as rich as it was xenophobic. And people born into the old Western order but seeking to escape it -- including most Americans, to some extent or other -- might want to escape its symbols, too.

Does this sound about right, or are there other reasons for disliking milk? I can understand personally not drinking it, if you don't have mature lactose tolerance; I can see excellent reasons for disliking industrial dairying with battery farms of miserable, inbred, inadvertently-cannibal cows (I don't touch milk unless it's organic and from humanely-raised cows); but if it isn't for the reasons above, I don't know why people dislike -- indeed, passionately shun and repudiate -- the very idea of drinking milk.

(Sorry for the late reply)

I'm confused. When you say "but if it isn't for the reasons above, I don't know why people dislike [milk]," how do you know that these complaints you've heard aren't for one of those stated reasons? If you know someone who advocates against dairy for reasons aside from what you listed.... you should ask them. (Sorry if that sounds flippant.)

I've been vegan for about 4 years, for ethical reasons, so I fall into one of the camps you've listed. So I guess I can't answer your question.

> When you say "but if it isn't for the reasons above, I don't know why people dislike [milk]," how do you know that these complaints you've heard aren't for one of those stated reasons?

I think that those are the main reasons, but I don't want to rule out that there are others -- and I don't want to rule out that I'm paranoid and over-thinking things, either. (I also don't want to sound condescending.) Don't worry in the slightest about sounding flippant.

And congratulations on being vegan and sticking to it! I've thought about vegetarianism for the same reasons; I'm fine with humanely-raised milk and eggs (as you've probably already guessed...), but I definitely see the merits of not killing in order to eat. Treating animals humanely before you kill them is better than treating them inhumanely first, but it still has a certain note of absurdity to it...

I am of German and Irish descent, thus I do not have lactose intolerance.

The problem is lactose is still a sugar, milk still contains caesin, and various hormones that trigger a response in human biology.

See: http://paleoleap.com/place-of-dairy-on-paleo-diet/

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact