Tomatoes don’t taste like they used to, because breeders have been prioritizing other traits like pest and disease resistance.
To bring that lost flavor back, a team of researchers from the University of Florida went on a quest to find the chemical combinations that make tomatoes tasty. First, they sequenced the DNA and examined the flavor-associated chemicals of 398 modern, heirloom and wild tomatoes. After that, they selected 160 samples out of the 398 and had 100 subjects rank them according to taste.
By combining the taste panel’s results and the samples’ chemical and genetic analyses, the researchers were able to identify the missing genes associated with flavor. They were then able to replace bad genes in modern tomatoes with good ones that restore their taste. Besides finding a way to make tomatoes taste like tomatoes again, the study also provides breeders a thorough genetic analysis of the fruit.
Plant and microbial biology professor Adrian Hegemanat from the University of Minnesota told The Verge:
“A breeder can now simultaneously select for hundreds of these genetic markers to rapidly select new plants with as many of the desirable traits as possible. This will make it easier to cross two different tomato varieties and test the progeny from that cross at very early stages of growth to get rid of plants that lack key gene linked traits.”
Breeders can’t get everything they want, though — in some varieties, for instance, sweetness is linked to a smaller size. But, hey, they now at least have the choice to make delicious tomatoes. If you want to know more about how the researchers accomplished their mission, check out their paper on Science.