Who wants tomatoes that look good? | Arkansas Blog

Who wants tomatoes that look good?

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HEIRLOOMS: The taste is the thing.
  • HEIRLOOMS: The taste is the thing.

Great writers like Jim Powell and Bob Lancaster figured an eternal truth out long ago.

Breeding tomatoes for looks and the ability to withstand the bumps and grinds of shipping produced tasteless tomatoes.

Now comes scientific proof of how the effort to produce uniformly ripening tomatoes — to avoid the green, unsightly hips that distinguish even ripened heirloom tomatoes — disabled the gene that makes tomatoes taste good.

You knew that instinctively. Just as real tomato fans know that, in a bounteous summer like this one, carving around blemishes and spots might not produce the round, even slice that looks so perfect on a sandwich, but it still leaves you with a glorious dripping mess of goodness, sweet in some cases, acidic in others. I should have taken a photo of the mixed platter of heirlooms I sliced the other night for guests from South America — orange, yellow, purplish red, deep red and pink. They included carbons, Cherokee purples, mortgage lifters, a Brandywine and more. Five of us must have eaten six or seven pounds of tomatoespotatoes. After guests had gone, and nobody was looking, I slurped the juice left in the platter. So shoot me. I'd die happy.

Horticulture prof Harry Klee offers this further aesthetic good news in an NPR report on the horticultural findings reported in Science magazine:

He says tomato breeders made a lot of compromises like this over the years as they created tomato plants that produce more fruit and are also rugged enough to hold up under rough handling.

Now, Klee says, with some of this new science, we have a chance to undo some of those decisions. "What I tell people is, we can have 100 percent of the flavor [of heirloom varieties] with 80 percent of the agricultural performance of the modern varieties, with very little work."

Breeders can start with some of the best heirlooms, then bring in some of the disease-resistance genes that modern varieties have. They should also be able to increase yields somewhat, he says.

The tomatoes will cost more, yes. I'll pay.

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