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What do tomatoes and tap water have in common?

July 02, 2012|By Karin Klein
  • Growers looking for a more visually appealing tomato bred for a mutation that gave tomatoes a uniform red color as they ripened.
Growers looking for a more visually appealing tomato bred for a mutation… (Odd Andersen / AFP / Getty…)

The answer is: They taste about the same most of the time. Unless we grow our own or buy at a farmers market or pay the premium for heirloom tomatoes, for years we've been stuck with flavorless tomatoes. Yes, some of it was caused by tomatoes picked green for shipping. But growers have struck back with "vine ripened" tomatoes, often still looking very authentically attached to the actual vine, in a deep scrumptious red. They still have no flavor. For a while, the golden tomatoes provided some extra punch, for those willing to pay some extra. Now they're pretty much the same as the red ones.

And now we know why. Growers looking for a more visually appealing tomato bred for a mutation that gave tomatoes a uniform red color as they ripened. Unfortunately, that same mutation switched off another mechanism in the plant that started the fruit out as dark green rather than the pastel tone that turns an even red. But the dark green, it turns out, is crucial to the development of sugars in the fruit.

Peaches also turned notably tasteless a few decades ago. They look gorgeous, never green, with the rosiest of blushes -- but at the same time, they're rock hard and only occasionally do they soften into something sweet and delectable.

What other food has changed over the last few decades? And has it been for better or worse?

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