Interesting piece in Time:
There are two pieces of late-breaking news on the tomato beat this week. First of all, tomatoes have shoulders. Second, tomatoes taste lousy. If you’re younger than 70, you probably already know about the lousy part. The shoulders are surely more of a surprise — but these are both key parts of a new study published in Science that explains what’s going on in the sorry world of supermarket tomatoes and why they taste nothing like their sweet, flavorful cousins in the wild.
It was a good 70 years ago that marketers first started catching wise to something farmers knew already: a tomato on the vine that’s uniformly light green may hardly be ready for eating, but it’s ready for picking if it’s destined for somewhere far away. By the time it’s packed, shipped, unloaded at the store and displayed on shelves, it will have turned a perfect, even red, which is eye candy to shoppers.
Not all tomatoes send so clear a pick-me signal when they’re ripening on the vine. Some have a more uneven look, with patches of darker green, particularly on the shoulders — the raised area at the top of the fruit that circles the depression where the stem attaches. Some of these might be ready for picking, but some might not be, leading to a mixed shipment arriving at the store, half of which gets left on shelves. So for seven decades, plant breeders have been selecting seeds from the uniformly green tomatoes, crossing them with other uniformly green ones to produce an über-race of perfect visual specimens. But as with other pretty things — the sea anemone, wolfsbane, John Edwards — looks can mislead.
They then go on to discuss the science of it all in great detail, but basically, it’s the same thing that has happened to red delicious apples. They’ve been bred for color instead of taste so long that they simply aren’t delicious anymore. They should be renamed red mediocres. When I was a kid, I remember eating red delicious apples that were so sweet that it would make your cheeks pucker. Now, buy a red delicious at the grocery store and chances are you’ll be biting into a very deep red mealy bland mass resembling an apple.
Fortunately, a lot of other apples are still out there, and I have orchards nearby that grow the most amazing Fuji apples ever. You bite into them and you want to cry they are so good.