Ever wonder why tomatoes taste like crap nowadays?
I bet almost everybody can remember eating a tomato at some point in their life and recall how delicious it was. It was probably juicy and bursting with flavor.
Today you buy a tomato and the skin is so tough and then when you bite into it, you feel cheated. Where is the juice? Where is the flavor?
What is going on at the tomato farm?
What is flavor?
A plant, in its lifetime, produces sugar through photosynthesis; remember that word from grade school? Well, the sugar content is correlated to nutritional density of the fruit. So, that tomato that you ate that knocked your socks off, was also super nutritious. Therefore, it stands to reason, the tomatoes that taste like crap are not providing you with the proper nutrition that nature intended.
The sugar content of fruits and vegetables can be measured with an instrument called a refractometer. A refractometer is a small scope, and you drop a bit of the sap or juice from the fruit on to the lens and point it at the light and look through. The light bounces off the liquid onto a scale within and reveals the sugar content. Wine grape growers use this device to tell when the grapes are ready to harvest.
Where has the flavor gone?
Since tomatoes are pretty much one of the most popular fruits, there is a lot of money driving production. Tomatoes are soft and juicy, and it is for this very reason that they are also extremely hard to ship. Additionally, tomatoes are prone to many insect and fungal attacks.
So, scientists and plant breeders are always looking for ways to make tomatoes more resistant to disease and insects as well as trying to toughen the skin so they will ship better. The only problem is, when you breed for these reasons, flavor falls by the wayside.
The flavor also will have a lot to do with the farmer and how he or she grows the tomato. Conventionally grown tomatoes are often not as flavorful as organically grown tomatoes. This is because organics follow a natural process where the biology of the soil releases nutrients to the plant and the plant takes them up when it needs them, as opposed to us throwing down a petroleum and salt based fertilizer and attempting to force feed the plant. These synthetic fertilizers kill the microbiology within the soil and leave a lifeless soil in which to grow our food. And, because they are not part of the natural process, most fertilizer is wasted and leeches through the soil only to end up in our water systems.
Your best option
A tomato is best left on the plant and picked when it has ripened. Unfortunately, even the organic tomatoes were picked before they're ripened because it is almost impossible to ship a tomato if ripe. If you want to eat a great tomato the best thing to do is to buy from a local farm or, better yet, grow it yourself. Tomatoes can be easily grown in containers on patios and back porches. Look for heirlooms or old fashioned varieties, these are always the best.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to New Times Broward-Palm Beach's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling South Florida's stories with no paywalls.