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Why Store-Bought Tomatoes Suck (And Why Your Farmers' Market Rocks)

(Photo by Krista Simmons/LAist)
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Be thankful as your farmers' market stalls spill over with heirloom tomatoes this month, Angelenos. Many folks might not have access to the sweet, plump 'maters we have here in SoCal, and are stuck with lifeless, water-logged globes from super market chains. It turns out the lackluster flavor of those tomatoes is not solely the fault of being picked too early and doused in pesticides. A new study published in Science magazine reveals that commercially-farmed tomatoes are actually missing a gene that allows them to produce sugar. And it's all a product of uniformity.

Back in the 1930s, farmers discovered a variety of tomato that didn't have dark green "shoulders," meaning their color was consistent throughout. These evenly-green tomatoes made it easier to determine harvest time, so they bred accordingly.

But there's one slight problem: Researchers at UC Davis and Cornell recently discovered that this breed of tomato that allowed for full, even redness by the time it reached the supermarket negatively impacted flavor. Those uneven spots of green on the wild tomatoes called "green shoulders" actually contribute to production of glucose and fructose, as well as lycopene. In modifying them, farmers cut off the fruit's food supply, rendering them watery and lifeless.

If that doesn't sell you on farmers' market produce, I don't know what will.