Saturday, May 29, 2010

Taking Tomatoes Back To Their Tasty Roots

Thanks NPR for being awesome

The Business Of Tomatoes

U.S. farm sales of tomatoes rake in more than $2 billion every year. By value, the most-sold tomato varieties in 2008 were hothouse tomatoes on the vine, grape tomatoes, and round field tomatoes, in that order. Heirloom tomatoes, or nonhybrid tomatoes, accounted for 1 percent of tomatoes sold in the U.S. in 2008.

While many U.S. stores sell genetically modified products, particularly corn and soy, tomatoes in U.S. supermarkets have not been genetically engineered. Most store-bought tomatoes are hybrids, which have been naturally bred for a longer shelf life and ease of transport.

Genetically engineered foods are made by introducing DNA into a plant that wasn't there before. But naturally bred products are made by mating two plants that are reproductively compatible — much like the breeding of dogs.

Many tomatoes bred for shipping long distances have a mutated gene that slows down their ripening process. Unripe tomatoes travel better, but once they arrive at the warehouses near their destination, they need help to ripen.

This is where ethylene gas comes in. Ethylene is a natural hormone that plants create; in tomatoes, it signals them to ripen. After tomatoes are shipped, but before they are delivered to the grocer, stacks of boxes of tomatoes go into a huge room that is pumped full of ethylene gas. After about a week, they're ready to head to the grocer.
— Rose Raymond
Sources: USDA, Produce Business, Harry Klee, professor, University of Florida, Encyclopaedia Britannica

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