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Developing a Flavorful Tomato

WASHINGTON—USDA Agriculture Research Service (ARS) scientists have identified a way for breeders to develop tastier, garden-fresh tomatoes that consumers crave, according to a study published in Plant Genetic Resources: Characterization and Utilization.

In the U.S. alone, the tomato is a $2 billion market, which annually harvests more than 15 million tons of the fruit for processing and fresh-market sales.

Joanne Labate, an ARS molecular biologist and Larry Robertson, curator of the ARS Plant Genetic Resources Unit vegetable collections in Geneva, New York, joined with Dilip Panthee from North Carolina State University to examine genetic diversities in tomatoes. 

The study focused on determining the variability of flavor-contributing components including total soluble solids (TSS) and total titratable acids (TTA) among other subjective traits related to flavor in a core collection of tomato accessions.

The collection was comprised of 173 tomato accessions with a wide genetic background from the USDA ARS Plant Genetic Resources Unit repository. The tomatoes were classified into three categories: plum or roma; cherry or grape; or the traditional large, round types.

Ten volunteers tasted the tomatoes and rated each variety on a scale of 1 to 5 in odor, taste, flavor and texture. Firmness, juice levels of sugar, citric acid and vitamin C were also measure.

The TTA varied from 0.20 to 0.64%, whereas the TSS ranged from 3.4 to 9.0%, indicating the availability of broad variation for these traits.

The findings showed that sugar and acid play a key role in determining overall flavor of the tomato. The sweeter the tomato, the more flavor it contained.  Information obtained from the study may be useful for tomato breeders aiming to improve tomato flavor.

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