Fixing the Broken Tomato: Restoring Flavor to a Cherished Food

Friday, February 15, 2013
Room 206 (Hynes Convention Center)
Harry J. Klee , University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
The flavor quality of commercial tomatoes has been a source of consumer dissatisfaction for many decades. The deterioration of flavor is part of a larger problem; nutrient quality of many crops has dropped as breeders have emphasized high yield. A large part of the problem is that flavor quality is poorly understood at the genetic and chemical level. A necessary first step to improving flavor in a complex whole food such as the tomato is to define the foundation of what chemicals contribute to consumer liking. To accomplish that end, we took a step back, screening a large number of chemically diverse “heirloom” tomatoes. We conducted a large scale study, determining consumer preferences and correlating liking with chemical composition for ~100 varieties.  The results were somewhat surprising, illustrating the weakness of traditional predictive methods and uncovering significant interactions between the taste and olfactory systems. Of particular interest is the enhancement of sweet perception by specific volatile compounds that is independent of sugar. The results provide a roadmap for the genetic improvement of tomato flavor and more broadly, processed foods and drinks.