Grocery store vrs home grown tomatoe

lcdollarJuly 18, 2014

Why the huge diff in flavor ?

I've heard a lot of stuff over the years, but what's the real story ?

My Father-in-Law is buying " on the vine " tomatoes at WalMart, and he's tryin to tell me they taste homegrown, I really like my FIL, but hey .... ya know.

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

There's several reasons.

1) Commercial varieties are bred to tolerate shipping. Their skin is a lot tougher than that of home-grown tomatoes, particularly if you are raising heirloom varieties. They also are bred to have a long shelf life so they don't go rotten while they are somewhere in the distribution chain or in the grocery store. They certainly aren't bred for flavor!

2) Commercial fields of tomatoes are harvested by machines while they are green, and therefore, not ripe. They are then washed, sorted, packed and shipped while green. They are exposed to ethylene gas which does, in fact, turn them red so that they look ripe----but they aren't ripe. They were picked green so never developed far enough to actually turn ripe. This is why their flavor never develops....because they never ripen. Artificially turning tomatoes red by exposing them to a specific gas while they are not ripe doesn't ripen them---it just colors them up to trick shoppers into thinking they are ripe. If you smell a red grocery store tomato, where is the aroma of a ripe tomato? It isn't there because that artificially-reddened tomato isn't ripe. I learned everything I just described to you from a wonderful book called "Can You Trust A Tomato in January?" and, as you might guess, the book's answer was "no, you cannot".

3) Commercially grown tomatoes are refrigerated in order to keep them from going bad while they are being distributed to stores and while they are on the store shelves. Refrigeration adversely affects both their texture (it makes them mushy) and their flavor (not that they had good flavor to begin with since they were not allowed to actually ripen).

4) Plant breeding has certain limitations. Breeders use all sorts of genetic manipulations, including deliberately using certain genetic mutations in their breeding programs, to give them the results they seek. Somewhere along the way, a genetic mutation was discovered with a trait the breeders loved. Plants with that mutation ripened all the fruit to a beautiful, uniform, scarlet red. Since all the tomato breeders apparently felt tomatoes only should come in a bright, scarlet red, they began using that gene to give them beautiful red tomatoes. It has been in use for quite a while---for decades. Now, new research, described in the article linked below, has linked poor tomato flavor to the use of that genetic mutation that makes the fruit turn that beautiful scarlet red. Apparently that genetic mutation adversely affects the gene that plays a role in developing sugar and aromas. Without the proper sugar development, flavor suffers. Ha! A lot of us die-hard home gardeners who grow our own so that we can eat tomatoes with great flavor always KNEW in our hearts that they were breeding the true tomato flavor out of modern-day tomatoes. Now we know how and why. I laughed out loud when I read this article a few weeks ago.

Just because breeders can breed virtually anything they want into fruit or vegetables doesn't mean that they should. What good is it to breed varieties that give you perfect, round, scarlet red fruit with a very long shelf life if it doesn't have the true texture and taste of a real tomato? What is the point?

I've also noticed in recent years that at a certain point in the year, boxes of reddish-orange almost square tomatoes arrive in the stores. They have been bred to have that nearly square shape so that they can fit as many of those things as possible into a shipping box with no wasted space. Flavor? There isn't any. Is it any wonder those poor things taste so bad? The breeders aren't breeding for flavor---they are breeding for a certain color (nothing but red), a certain shape (squareish to fit into boxes most efficiently) and shelf life (they might last forever on the shelves, but I'll never know because I don't buy them).

A couple of decades back, a certain company tried to breed a tomato that would last, literally, for months on the store shelves or on your kitchen counter. That didn't really work out very well because they had no flavor, so grocery stores and consumers rejected them. I believe that one was called the McGregor or MacGregor tomato. So, at least at that point in time, the desire for tasty tomatoes did triumph over the breeders' desire to develop a tomato that would set on a shelf forever without going bad.

People who think grocery store tomatoes have good flavor and texture usually think that because they've never had real, home-grown tomatoes with great flavor and texture. They've gotten used to eating those mushy, flavorless things....or maybe they just don't care. If you've only ever had grocery store tomatoes, you don't expect that tomatoes would taste any differently from that. Or, maybe their taste buds are dead. When people tell me they don't like tomatoes, my instant response is that I bet they've never eaten anything but grocery store tomatoes. If you can get them to taste a good, tasty, home-grown tomato at the peak of perfection, they suddenly discover they like tomatoes after all....but to get a tomato like that, they will have to learn to grow their own.

In the last decade, it has come to the attention of the plant breeders and seed companies that a certain segment of the population (namely home gardeners, market growers who sell at farmer's markets or via CSAs, chefs who treasure food with good flavor and foodies) is growing and eating tasty heirloom tomatoes with a wide variety of flavor profiles and in all kinds of colors including but not limited to orange, yellow, green-when-ripe, purple, pink, black, and in bicolors and tricolors. So, of course, now those breeders and the seed companies have been rushing to give us hybrid tomatoes in various colors that are supposed to be as tasty as the heirlooms they mimic. Well, I'm not buying it. They can develop hybrid fruit in all sorts of colors but I still bet they cannot get the flavor we get in heirloom, open-pollinated fruit. They can give them similar names to popular heirloom, open-pollinated varieties, but I'm not falling for it. They probably could get the true heirloom flavor if they bothered to breed for flavor, but I don't really think they "get it" enough to do that, yet.


Here is a link that might be useful: Scarlet Red Tomatoes With No Flavor

    Bookmark   July 18, 2014 at 4:30PM
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I think one thing the breeders have going for them is that a lot of people really don't know how tomatoes use to taste. If we have generation after generation growing up on store bought tomatoes there will be more people that think that is what a tomato is supposed to taste like, and to some of them it will be what they want. I really don't like store bought tomatoes, but a hundred years from now that may be what many people except as a good tomato. I like beans and potatoes, but many of my grandkids had rather have pizza or hamburger. It seem to be what you grow up with that sets you future standards.


    Bookmark   July 18, 2014 at 5:04PM
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Thanks Dawn, that explains a lot. I'd always heard the flavor diff was because the groc store tomatoes were not vine ripened. But then, my tomatoes aren't vine ripened either, I pick them at the breaker stage and the taste just fine.

That was a riddle I could not understand.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2014 at 4:22PM
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