A Generation That’s Never Tasted a Real Tomato

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PHOTO: Commercial tomatoes for sell, courtesy of InterestingPics
PHOTO: Commercial tomatoes for sell, courtesy of InterestingPics

It is undeniable that the tomato has become a staple food in the Western World, as American, Italian, Spanish, and Mexican diets are largely based upon this easily preserved fruit.  A fruit the Supreme Court ruled to be a vegetable in 1893 in a case that challenged US tariff laws imposing a duty tax on imported vegetables but not fruits.

Regardless of what you call it, for generations millions of American children grew up anxiously awaiting the ripening of the year’s first tomatoes as it signaled a near daily treat until well past the first frost.

Big, soft, juicy and sweet, America’s tomatoes of yesteryear were culinary delights that were as beloved as any candy.

Whether sliced and heavily salted, slapped betwixt two pieces of bread with mayonnaise, or eaten raw, these tomatoes were nothing short of pure ecstasy and children craved these garden treats!

Fast-forward a handful of generations and American school children are throwing away tomatoes faster than the lunchroom cafeteria workers can slap them onto a tray.

What happened?  Why have America’s youngest fallen out of love with what was once its beloved fruit?

The answer may not surprise you all that much: It’s not that our children have changed, it’s that tomatoes have changed.

Tomatoes were once a seasonal treat enjoyed fresh out of the garden, but advances in science has made it possible for Americans to eat a red tomato year-round, anywhere in the nation.

The tradeoff, however, is that the scientifically modified plant simply isn’t as good as it was a half-century ago.

In the 1950s, tomato breeders discovered a mutant phenotype which caused a tomato plant to ripen uniformly red, rather than retain a green ring around the stem as was previously the case.

After additional cross-breeding and modifying, scientists had created what seemed to be the perfect commercial tomato: One that was brilliantly red, would not spoil as quickly, was resistant to pests, and a plant whose skin was tough enough to not split or burst during thousands of miles of transport.

Unfortunately, for all of its selling points, the new tomatoes simply were not as tasty.

Old styles of tomatoes produced more sugar during the ripening process, which resulted in a sweeter and more flavorful fruit.

Today’s more altered plants taste more like wet Styrofoam than the garden treat you may remember as a child.

A selection of heirloom tomatoes. Photo courtesy of Stu Spivack
A selection of heirloom tomatoes. Photo courtesy of Stu Spivack

The greatest antidote to saving another generation from despising tomatoes is by actually letting them taste what real tomatoes taste like: Heirloom Tomatoes.

Heirloom tomatoes are becoming increasingly popular, particularly among home gardeners and organic producers. Heirloom plants tend to produce more interesting and flavorful crops at the cost of disease resistance and productivity. Though the definition of an heirloom tomato is vague, they typically refer to tomatoes that have been bred true for 40 years or more.

If you’ve never tasted an heirloom tomato before, to put it simply, you’ve never tasted a tomato!

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