Why modern tomatoes look great but are not sweet

A news report on a new study says that the same genetic mutation that gave modern supermarket tomatoes their luscious-looking uniform red color is also the one that reduced its sweetness.

It may be possible to use this new information to genetically engineer a new breed of tomatoes that are both sweeter and uniformly red but there is resistance to doing so, and so the best bet for those who want sweet tomatoes is to grow so-called heirloom tomatoes that date to before the appearance of the mutation that gave rise to uniform ripening.

The tomato study was published in Science (vol. 336 no. 6089 pp. 1711-1715, 29 June 2012)


  1. Kels says

    Hmm, I wonder if that applies to cherry tomato breeds. The ones we grew two years ago were quite sweet, but the ones from last year not so much. Not much visual difference between the two that I could recall.

  2. EmbraceYourInnerCrone says

    Heirlooms are fun! They taste great and come in really interesting colors (stripey green, yellow, purple!) I have just started trying to grow some heirlooms this year, I don’t have much space so I do small raised beds. Up until now I had grown mostly the regular Beefsteak, Early girl types. Even so, having tasted home grown tomatoes the past few years, my daughter refuses to eat the commercial kind any more, when I can, I try for local growers or farmers markets, which are easier to find in urban Connecticut then you might think!

    I don’t know what my results will be with too much rain followed by too much heat but we’ll see.

  3. Anonymouse says

    @EmbraceYourInnerCrone: I agree with your daughter. I didn’t know I liked tomatoes until I started eating a local farmer’s heirloom tomatoes, and now I think they’re wonderful. There’s so much taste variation between breeds.

  4. Gregory in Seattle says

    In my life, I have grown strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, onions, radishes, even artichokes. A neighbor grew apples, and my grandparents had a full garden that included plums, crabapple and raspberries. Nothing — and I mean NOTHING — can compare to fresh, fully ripe home-grown fruits and vegetables.

    Remember that the tomatoes you get in the grocery store were picked unripe, then artificially ripened just before they hit the shelves. That has a profoundly negative effect on taste.

  5. N. Nescio says

    I’m the same way. When it’s tomato season, I eat fresh tomatoes. I freeze and can what I am able to grow or obtain, and then when it’s not tomato season that’s what I use.

    Store-bought tomatoes taste awful, and never cease to be a disappointment.

  6. Aerik says

    I help my mom maintain her garden, which has a fantastic yield of tomatoes and bell peppers. She’s been more and more enthusiastic each year about “heirloom” tomatoes. But from what I can tell, most people treat this as slang for any tomato that isn’t the perfectly round and red thing you see on cartoons. Oh, there’s some green on the top? Heirloom. Must be better.

    Yeah, I notice that the more colorful ‘maters have a more nuanced taste than the cookie-cutter variety found at wal-mart, but is it that much better or sweeter, *specifically* ? I don’t think so. Just more complex.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *