What gives tomatoes their flavor?

Tomato sugars, mainly fructose and glucose, result in a sweet taste. The acids in a tomato, mainly citric and malic acids, result in a tart, sometimes tart taste. The volatile compounds or oils in fruit that are released as fragrance when the fruit is crushed during the meal contribute to the flavor. Taste is a balance between acidity and sugar, in addition to the influence of elusive volatile compounds for the aroma and flavor that tomato breeders want to capture.

Volatile compounds are an emerging science, while sugars and acids are better understood. We all know that some tomatoes taste sweet, while others taste sour. But why? Those that taste more acidic, or sour, have a higher level of acids combined with a low level of sugars, explains Dr. Randolph Gardner, Tomato Breeder, North Carolina State University.

A tomato rich in sugars and low in acids tastes sweet. If a tomato is low in acids and sugars, it has a mild flavor. The preferred flavor for most people is the result of high levels of acids combined with high levels of sugars to balance the flavor. According to Klee, the good taste of tomatoes is a complex picture of sugars, acids and mysterious gaseous chemicals that we experience as odors.

Klee and colleagues are still identifying these aroma volatiles, and have identified more than 3,000 of them in more than 152 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. Tomatoes contain a lot of water, about 95% to be exact. Its water content influences the juiciness of fruits and their flavor. Therefore, proper watering is essential to obtaining tasty fruits.

There are more than 400 volatile compounds in tomatoes that give them their flavor, but the predominant factors are acid and sugar. Whether a tomato tastes sweet or sour is also usually a matter of taste: your taste. There are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes with what seem to be more choices all the time, so there's bound to be a tomato for you. Factors that are beyond your control, such as rain, wind, temperature and humidity, will continue to influence the taste of tomatoes, even if combined and all other factors are taken into account.

For expert advice on which tomato breeds are best suited for your backyard, consult your local agricultural extension office. But do not think that a tomato that grows well and tastes like a dream in one place will necessarily thrive elsewhere. In an article published last month in Current Biology, Klee says that some of these chemicals can make a tomato taste sweet even if they have nothing to do with sugar. Today, around 7 percent of tomatoes have it, which means breeders have started selecting it, Giovannoni explained, a trend that will hopefully continue to grow.

When days and nights rise above these temperatures, tomatoes can have trouble bearing fruit, and when temperatures stay lower, plants don't create flavor compounds as effectively. If you decide to grow several tomato plants, choose a few varieties with different flavors to suit different cooking purposes. But in recent years, as breeders have begun to focus more on taste, more and more modern tomato varieties have the gene. Now scientists have found that a version of a gene that helps flavor tomatoes is absent in approximately 93 percent of modern and domesticated varieties.

An international team of researchers collected genomic information from 725 cultivated and wild tomatoes and assembled them into a pangenomic genome, a genome that captures the genetic information of all varieties. New Jersey agricultural extension specialists report that an experiment there using seawater on tomatoes also produced better flavor. .

Erika Shipley
Erika Shipley

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