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The Science of Tasty Tomatoes Lies in the Chemicals

FRIDAY, May 25 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists say they've learned why a ripe, homegrown tomato tastes so much better than the bland supermarket variety.

The University of Florida researchers examined chemical profiles of 278 tomato samples representing 152 heirloom varieties, most of which were bred before today's commercial tomatoes existed. The heirloom tomatoes had an unexpectedly large chemical diversity.

The researchers than had volunteers taste a subset of heirloom tomatoes with the most chemical diversity and rated their overall liking of each variety as well as overall flavor intensity, sweetness and sourness.

A statistical analysis of the chemistry and taste test results showed that flavor intensity was linked to 12 different compounds and sweetness to another 12, including eight that were also important for overall flavor.

The researchers also found that some flavor volatiles (which vaporize and send scent molecules into the air) influence the perception of sweetness through the sense of smell, according to the study published online May 24 in Current Biology.

"We now know exactly what we need to do to fix the broken tomato," and this could be the first step to restoring good flavor in commercial tomatoes, study author Harry Klee said in a journal news release.

"Consumers care deeply about tomatoes," he noted. "Their lack of flavor is a major focus of consumer dissatisfaction with modern agriculture. One could do worse than to be known as the person who helped fix flavor."

More information

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has tips for getting more fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes into your daily diet.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Current Biology, news release, May 24, 2012

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