Friday, March 24, 2017

The Happy Curmudgeon: The Taste Of Tomatoes

Food: 1:5
“Happy is the man…”
Photo Credit: ©Perry J. Greenbaum









I love tomatoes; even as a child I loved eating tomatoes, not only in salads but alone (with some salt) as a fruit. I often enjoyed a toasted tomato and onion sandwich with a bit of mayo and sometimes with a slice or two of cucumber. Nothing like a sweet juicy tomato on a hot summer day. Suffice to say, I am a big fan of tomatoes.

One of my fondest eating memories dates to the early 1980s, of eating fresh tomatoes (with a bit of salt) right off the vine, just as they became ripe, on a hot day in August; there was little to compare this to in terms of gustatory experience. The man who grew the tomatoes was much older than me, in his late seventies, and offered them to me as one would offer a prize possession. They were delicious, but I did not think much of it at the time.

After all, I had always expected tomatoes to taste like this. There was no reason then to expect otherwise. But I noticed recently, this being in the last decade or so, that there is something wrong with the taste of tomatoes as they have become larger and less sweet. They don’t taste right. They don’t taste like tomatoes.

Basket of Tomatoes: The larger the tomato, the blander the taste. Tomatoes lose their taste if kept in the fridge. It is better to keep them at room temperature. 
Photo Credit & Source: ©2017. Perry J. Greenbaum

First I thought it was a matter of finding organic tomatoes, or non-GMO tomatoes or expensive fancy-type tomatoes or growing your own, which I did one year in a pot on our balcony. But, while these were an improvement in taste, they did not duplicate my memory of earlier years. I had all but given up, thinking that my memory was false, that I had just aged and my taste buds had aged along with my memory.

My family and friends chimed in that I must accept that my taste buds were not telling the truth. But then I came across this article (“The Quest to Return Tomatoes to Their Full-Flavored Glory;” January 26, 2017) by Brian Handwerk:
Today’s fruit simply doesn't pack the flavor of the old-fashioned tomato, finds a new genome study published today in the journal Science. “Genomic technologies, like the ones the authors used in this research, really enable us to study what happened to the tomato in a very effective way,” says Esther van der Knaap, a plant geneticist at the University of Georgia who was not involved in the new study. “What did we leave behind, and what are we carrying through?”
I now know that it was not me that changed, but the tomato. Thank you Mr. Handwerk for your article. I have been vindicated. Now I am waiting for the return of tasty and sweet tomatoes. I am waiting to repeat that experience from more than 35 years ago.

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