Growers and breeders may receive the brunt of the blame for today’s bland-tasting tomatoes, but retailers and shippers aren’t without fault.
Despite efforts to convince them otherwise, those responsible for the postharvest life of the fruit seem to be ingrained with the idea that tomatoes must be maintained at a low temperature – typically 50 F – says Doug Heath, senior tomato breed for Oceano, Calif.-based Bejo Seeds.
But if tomatoes are held at that temperature for an extended period, they’ll break down within a couple of days when moved to room temperature.
Heath says he’s passed out fliers at trade shows encouraging shippers and retailers not to chill tomatoes, to little avail.
“It seems nearly impossible to change the minds of these guys to increase their cooler temperature,” he says.
Breeders get a bad rap, he says, because consumers aren’t able to appreciate the full flavor of some of the commercially produced tomatoes.
Harry Klee, professor in the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida, Gainesville, says some retailers are among the biggest offenders.
“If they’ve got a whole bunch of tomatoes, and they want to keep them from going bad, they stick them in the refrigerator,” he says. “It’s all about making money, but it’s the worst thing you can do.”
Heath understands the industry’s predicament.
Some of the older literature recommended storing tomatoes at temperatures in the 40-degree range, he says.
“They’re just doing what they were told,” he says.
“The system is based on those people wanting to keep their tomato intact until it safely reaches the next level in the chain,” he says. Some retailers actually display tomatoes on refrigerated tables, he adds. “I’m really dismayed with that.”
Heath says tomatoes stored at 55 or 60 degrees actually may hold up better than chilled fruit.
“It’s going to take a major mindset change how to ship these and how a retailer should handle them,” he says. “I’d like to see some brave soul try it.”