Ecology Matters by Duke Vasey

We spent the past month eating salads across the Balkans and a little further south--Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia and Turkey.

The tomatoes were sweet and tasty. They were also locally grown and picked fresh.

When American growers started breeding tomatoes for a uniform green color in unripe fruit, they inadvertently helped create the wet-paper towel flavor of the current variety appearing on grocers’ shelves. How could you forget that tomatoes get all of their sugars from chloroplasts in the plant leaves?

Biochemist Ann L. Thomas Powell of the University of California, Davis wrote in the June 29 issue of “Science” that breeders have sabotaged the gene, SlGLK2, that boosts sugar and other sources of flavor. Without that gene you can shelve the Mason or Kerr jars.

The real culprit affecting tomato flavor is a production system that picks tomatoes before they are ripe, because that changes the ripening process, interrupting for instance the conversion of starch to sugar.

Formerly a passionate fruit, tomatoes have lost their luster. The new variety even makes salsa taste awful.

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