Taste of fruits & vegetables

Thomas Bjorkman Thomas_Bjorkman at cornell.edu
Mon Jul 25 09:19:26 EST 1994

In article <30p9om$qkn at rebecca.albany.edu>, tivol at tethys.ph.albany.edu

> Several comments have been posted regarding the flavors of transgenic foods.
> Flavor used to be one of the main criteria by which commercial varieties were
> chosen; however, nowadays the selection criteria have more to do with appear-
> ance and with shipping and ripening properties than anything else.  The var-
> iety which all ripens at once, which is tough enough to survive a mechanical
> picker and be shipped across the country, and which looks good at the end is
> the ideal.  Flavor is about the seventh criterion and nutrition is not even
> on the list!  This is why tomatoes cannot be safely canned without further
> acidification.  If this is true of varieties selected by low-tech means, it
> *might* be even truer for varieties altered by high-tech.  Thus, it's not the
> genetic engineering, it's the motivations underlying the selection--especial-
> ly selections made by large, highly mechanized farms.
> 					Yours,
> 					Bill Tivol

Some of your statements  are misleading because they confuse  processing
tomatoes and fresh-market tomatoes.  

Processing tomatoes are all mechanically harvested; they are selected for
uniform ripening and high soluble solids (in effect a very solid tomato
with little of the seed jelly) and the firmness to withstand mechanical
harvest. They are rarely trucked very far because of the expense.  These
are the tomatoes used in spaghetti sauce and such products.  People rarley
complain about tasteless Prego.  The uniform ripening and fruit type are in
all the breeding lines, present breeding objectives emphasize disease
resistance and high soluble solids.  The disease resistance is to reduce
pesticide use, the soluble solids to reduce the amount of boiling needed to
make sauce. 

Fresh market tomatoes are shipped all over the country, but they are not
mechanically harvested.  Most are also harvested several times, so ripening
is not uniform in these.  The fruit character is mostly determined by the
produce wholesalers, and their main objection is to having a shipment of
tomatoes rot. They sell to reailers and institutions. Supermarkets tend to
be a little more discriminating than institutions when it comes to flavor. 
Shipping ability is a major criterion for the big production areas like
Florida.  They grow a lot of a variety called Sunny that is tasteless even
when ripened in the home garden. The other breeding criteria in fresh
market tomatoes are disease resistance, fruit size and shape, uniform red
color.  I find that growers are concerned about flavor in selecting the
varieties to grow.  (When the market is glutted, the better tasing ones
will sell.)  The new releases Mountain Pride and Mountain Spring do have
good flavor and are getting popular with prodcuers.

Regarding genetically engineered tomatoes, the big question in the industry
has certainly been whether FlavrSavr(R) tastes good.  There has been all
kinds of information in the rumor mill.  There is absolutely no point in
improving the storage life of a bad tomato, so there has been concern that
Calgene maight blow it and put the gene into an inappropriate variety.  CRC
Press recently published  all of the documentation that went with the
approval for FlavrSavr.  A whole lot of it concerns nutrition because the
registrant has to show that the new stuff has the same nutritional value as
the old stuff.  There isn't any reason to expect this particular gene to
change the nutrition, so that was a boring section to me.  There are also a
few pages of the results of taste tests.  The disappointment there was that
all the varieties were picked early, so they all tasted the same (and
probably not much).  

Thomas Bjorkman    Dept. of Horticultural Sciences   Cornell University

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