Tastier Tomatoes

By John H. Cox
Executive Director, FEMA

Thousands of compounds help determine the flavor of food and beverages.  Therefore, it seems nearly impossible to pinpoint the components of flavor perception that will help to create more flavorful products.  But it’s not!

Taste Components

We’ve mentioned in previous blogs the role our senses, the setting, and even our singing plays in flavor perception.  As researchers continue to study this topic, they are able to identify specific factors that influence the taste of our produce.

In a recent study published on Teatro Naturale, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) partnered with North Carolina State University to test 173 tomato varieties to determine the qualities that create flavorful fruit.  Using the ARS Tomato Germplasm Collection in Geneva, the research team selected a cross section of tomatoes to properly represent the diversity of the fruit.

Acid and Sugar

The researchers examined the ratios of sugar, organic acid, amino acid, lipids, and other components of the fruit that were planted on test plants in North Carolina.  Once ripe, the tomato varieties were categorized into three types: cherry or grape, plum or roma, or the traditional large red tomato.

Ten volunteers trained in sensory analysis were asked to rate the varieties on a scale of one to five in the four sensory areas of flavor, odor, taste, and texture. The findings show two components, acid and sugar, play a key role in flavor tasting.  The ARS reported the greater the ratio of sugar to acid, the sweeter the tomato and more flavor perceived.

Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org.

Future Flavor Breeding

Studies like these support the USDA’s priority of promoting international food security.  The results, published in Plant Genetic Resources: Characterization and Utilization (2013), represent one of the most comprehensive studies conducted in an effort to boost flavor among commercial varieties and lines used for breeding.

The good news for breeders?  Sugar and acid levels are easy and inexpensive measurements to track.  The study shows a broad range of possibilities for adjusting sugar and acid levels to produce the “fresh from the garden” taste desired by consumers.

Do you think this will help to create tastier tomatoes worldwide?  What effects might this study have on the tomato breeding process from planting to cooking?  Share your thoughts on the study and findings below.

The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association of the United States (FEMA) was founded in 1909 and is the national association of the U.S. flavor industry.  FEMA’s membership is comprised of flavor manufacturers, flavor users, flavor ingredient suppliers, and others with an interest in the U.S. flavor industry.  The association is committed to ensuring a safe supply of flavor ingredients used in foods and beverages enjoyed by billions of men, women, and children around the world.

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