Widespread public dissatisfaction with "supermarket-perfect" tasteless tomatoes could soon be a thing of past now scientists have discovered the chemical combination the constitutes a flavoursome fruit.
Writing in Current Biology, University of Florida researcher Harry Klee, analysed 152 "heirloom" tomato strains that pre-date the breeding process that has produced, much to the chagrin of shoppers, the bloated, watery fare now on offer in most shops.
Surprisingly, there was huge chemical diversity across the range of strains, offering the scientists the opportunity to use them to iron out what people do and don't look for in selecting a tasty tomato.
Produce from 66 of the heirloom tomato cultivars, including some supermarket specimens, were presented to a panel of 170 tasters who rated the offerings. The levels of 68 different chemicals were measured in samples of the same fruits and compared with the reponses of the tasting panel.
Twelve chemicals consistently turned up as key determinants of flavour, and a further 12 were linked to sweetness, 8 of which also played a part in overall flavour too. Interestingly, some of the compounds that are most abundant in tomatoes seem to play almost no role whatsoever in determining whether we like them, and some volatile chemicals sensed in the nose during eating also play a major part in sweetness perception, suggesting that it's possible to make things taste sweet with just a smell!
But, more importantly, the identification of the chemicals that seems to be most strongly linked to the most enjoyable tomato-experience means that breeding programmes informed by chemistry could now be initiated to come up with plant strains that not score well for good looks and shelflife but taste good too!
Part of the show Making a Meal out of Microbes from the 27th May 2012