The next time you bite into a supermarket tomato and are less than impressed with the taste, blame aesthetics. A new study reveals that decades of breeding the fruits for uniform color have robbed them of a gene that boosts their sugar content.
The finding is “a massive advance in our understanding of tomato fruit development and ripening,” says Alisdair Fernie, who studies the chemical composition of tomatoes at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam, Germany.
The tomato originated in South America and is now grown around the world. More than 15 million tons are harvested in the United States alone each year. Farmers pluck the fruits from the vine before they are ripe, and for about 70 years breeders have selected tomatoes that are uniformly light green at that time. This makes it easier to spot the tomatoes that are ready to be harvested and ensures that, by the time they hit supermarket shelves, the fruits glow with an even red color. Wild varieties, in contrast, “have dark green shoulders, and that makes it harder to determine the right time to harvest,” says Ann Powell, a plant scientist at the University of California, Davis. Consumers might also find unevenly colored tomatoes less appealing, she suggests.
Read More: How Tomatoes Lost Their Taste