We’ve all seen it: reddish splotches heavy with mayonnaise, dragged off sandwiches and eventually crunched in parchment for the trash bin.
We’ve seen the studious grocery shoppers, sniffing and pinching and eventually skipping the pile of seedy fruit balls in the produce section. We’ve seen the pinkish wedges ignored at the salad bar, so pitiful and bland-looking they’re not worth a penny of extra weight in the checkout line.
And we’ve sympathized with hopeful gardeners, pushing leafy young plants into the soil and sprinkling them with strange mixtures of household waste — crushed eggshells, used coffee grounds, pet hair — to foment the growth, the flavor, the tang.
Now, perhaps, a solution.
University of Florida scientists believe they have cracked the genetic code of old-timey tomatoes. The upshot allegedly is a tomato that could be sturdy enough for shipping all the way to your grocer.
Led by horticultural sciences Prof. Harry Klee, who has spent his career studying the genetic makeup of vegetables and fruits, researchers bred and grew and taste-tested hundreds of tomatoes to find the blend that would be strong enough to ship and pretty enough to buy — and meet the flavor requirements of a Rick Bayless.
That’s the problem, you see. Us. Consumers.
Growers and grocers stopped caring about the insides of the tomato because all we cared about were the outsides. Red, shiny, unblemished? Drop them in the shopping cart.
“The challenge is to improve flavor without compromising yield,” Klee explains on his web page. “Growers are businessmen. Until the growers are paid a fair price for great flavor, they must focus on what pays the bills. Yield.”
The University of Florida study was published last month in Science magazine. We could try to translate all the academic vocabulary and explain the composition of a tomato’s sugars and acids. But in truth, we don’t care too much about that.
Thank you, scientists. Now, can we talk about those watery, pruned, nude, embarrassed little baby carrots?
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE