UF Horticultural Sciences professor Dr. Harry Klee and his team of researchers are making tremendous headway in understanding why tomatoes taste the way they do. More appropriately, they are understanding why tomatoes don’t taste the way we wish they did!
Recent results are being presented this week at the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science annual symposium in Boston, MA.
Flavors and aromas are produced by a complex cloud of volatile organic componds that interface with sensors equipped to detect them. Together this mix of hundreds of compounds, in conjunction with sugars, acids and other “taste” activators, provides a stimulation to the brain that defines the sensory experience. In other words, the chemicals present in tiny amounts in fruits activate receptors in the nose and throat that provide the brain with flavor and aroma information.
Plant breeders have sought high yields, great shelf life and disease resistance. Many of these gains have come at the expense of flavor. Now that scientists like Klee have a handle on how flavors are produced, it is now possible to define breeding targets to introduce key metabolites back into commercial tomatoes.
Dr. Linda Bartoshuk from the UF School of Dentistry has studied how flavors and aromas are sensed and what triggers a consumer’s “liking”. Together with Klee’s groundbreaking work, it is possible to narrow and prioritize which chemicals are most important and which ones should be re-introduced to tomato first.
This research leads to a better understanding of the flavor compounds produced by tomatoes and why we like them. The work promises to improve fresh tomatoes, but also processed tomato products.