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We broke the tomato, and we’re using science to fix it (arstechnica.com)
47 points by protomyth 793 days ago | 27 comments



The Red Delicious apple underwent a similar change, being bred mainly for size and shelf appeal rather than taste. People stopped buying them in favor of other varieties, and the Washington apple industry, which heavily depended on the Red Delicious, had to be bailed out as a result.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08...

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That article is useless without pictures. If people liked old apples better, why didn't growers just switch back?

Maybe people just happened to like other varieries that entered the market.

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They have to wait for the trees to mature.

(which I realize is obvious, but if you have to wait 10 years or whatever, you can't exactly just switch back)

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I'm in the produce industry and every year someone claims to have a new variety of tomato that tastes like the tomatoes " your grandparents ate". When the new variety comes to market almost no one is willing to buy the product at a premium price. It happens over and over.

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Strawberries suffered the same sad fate.

I'm amazed at how huge, juicy, wonderful smelling, and almost completely flavorless strawberries have gotten over the decades. I still buy them a couple times a year, and am always disappointed.

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Interesting. I find non-heirloom tomatoes taste great as long as they are fresh. This means I can rarely get good tomatoes and only in the summer and early fall. My dad's garden and farmer's markets are the best, Costco tomatoes are a distant (but viable) second. Almost all the tomatoes I've bought in grocery stores are terrible - bland and pulpy.

I've read that the bananas our grandparents ate aren't the same as we get these days due to a blight that wiped them out. I'm not a huge fan of bananas but maybe these researchers should focus there as well. I would probably eat more bananas if they had a little better taste.

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I agree completely... The ones that are ripened in the grocery store are bland and waxy tasting. I really miss the garden I grew up with in the '70s. There's no comparison to vine ripened tomatoes ( not to be confused with Vine Ripe brand, of course).

I don't know if you are talking about the same ones or not, but the Campari tomatoes that Costco sells are about the only store bought tomato I can stand... They're kind of like a giant cherry tomato.

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Campari - absolutely. They are linked on a vine and as long as you don't detach the vine they will last a fair amount of time. They are fine straight from the store but they get better if given a couple days.

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Yes, the "Gros Michel" banana was a tastier variety, but was destroyed by a fungus 1906-1960. The current variety, the "Cavendish" was resistant to the original fungal strain, but is now under threat from a new strain...

http://www.npr.org/2011/07/22/138610585/yes-we-do-have-banan...

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Tasty bananas are to be had, you just have to look for them outside your typical grocery store. Many Mexican carnicerías carry a smaller species of banana that's more prevalent in Central America, and it's much tastier than the banana you're likely familiar with.

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Definitely check out "dry farmed" tomatoes if you can find them when the season rolls around. They are grown with less water, and tend to be smaller with a more intense flavor.

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Dry farmed = traditional farming.

Modern commercial-scale eating (as opposed to canned) tomatoes are hydroponically grown.

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In addition to the red delicious, the strawberries, and the tomato, count in watermelon. It's gotten so you can only buy seedless in the store, and seedless isn't close to the flavor of seeded.

On all of these, flavor has been bred out in favor of looks and hardiness, and we now have a generation of people who don't know what the stuff really tasted like. Hell, I'm forgetting what some of it is like myself, until I eat a different or heritage variety. And don't get me started on poultry.

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I'm a fan of what is marketed as "Grape Tomatoes"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grape_tomato

They have a great flavor if you can get past the size

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I'm not a fan because they have displaced cherry tomatoes which are better. Especially the Sungold variety.

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I once saw a tomato tasting booth at a farmer's market with some 25 different varietals, and I'm sure there are hundreds of others just waiting to be grown. We don't need to science the solution.

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The problem with those varieties is they don't produce the same yields.

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Reminds me of chicken farmers that bred chickens that produced the most eggs - which resulted in highly aggressive chickens that would kill and injure their competitors and break their eggs. Or the wheat farmer that selected only for the largest kernels of wheat and got a crop that only produced a few massive kernels.

In this case we've created tomatoes that grow amazingly huge and fast and pretty looking, and yet they taste much worse. No one was selecting for taste.

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Part of the problem is that the tomato growers have been very successful in protecting their racket. When someone tries to sell a better-tasting tomato, the Florida Tomato Committee keeps it off the market.

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The title led me to believe that they were trying to fix the loss of nutrients and mineral content in vegetables like the tomato [1].

I was sorely disappointed to see it was just the taste. I would guess that fixing the mineral content by good farming techniques will enhance the flavor too.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=soil-deplet...

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Soil depletion has little to do with Florida tomato quality:

"""the majority of the state's tomatoes are raised in sand. Not sandy loam, not sandy soil, but pure sand, no more nutrient rich than the stuff vacationers like to wiggle their toes into on the beaches of Daytona and St. Pete. "A little piece of loam or clay would go a long way," said Ozores-Hampton. "But, hello? — this is just pure sand." In that nearly sterile medium, Florida tomato growers have to practice the equivalent of hydroponic production, only without the greenhouses."""

http://www.npr.org/2011/06/28/137371975/how-industrial-farmi...

The page ends with an interesting description of the irrigation-from-below system ("seepage irrigation") enabled by the sand-on-hardpan conditions.

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How about just stop growing shitty tomatoes? Fuck.

The tomatoes I eat taste great, because I don't buy tomatoes grown by ignorant assholes who don't understand how plants work.

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The farmers understand both how plants work and how markets work. They have optimized their plants to maximize production for the market forces they experience - they get paid by weight for nice-looking tomatoes that can be shipped long distances without degrading. Taste doesn't factor into it.

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I'm pretty sure that not understanding plants is not a problem that industrial agriculture has.

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And yet their tomatoes taste like shit. I disagree.

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They just target a market you are not part of.

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I am not pleased with engineering for taste without regard for the corresponding nutrients that our taste evolved to detect.

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