The sweetest tomatoes are underripe

A new study from the scientific journal Metabolites analyzed the pigment molecules in 157 different kinds of tomatoes in order to figure out the role that colors play in flavor (emphasis added). Chemical and Engineering News summarized the findings well:

The team measured amounts of chlorophyll, responsible for green color, and prolycopene, a type of carotenoid that makes tomatoes orange. Overall, tomato varieties with high amounts of chlorophyll also had higher sugar content. Tomatoes with a lot of prolycopene had higher amounts of the volatile compound 6-methyl-5-hepten-2-one, which is partly responsible for that distinct sweet-tomato smell and can also affect flavor. Taking all these chemical components into consideration, the researchers concluded that the tastiest tomatoes strike a balance between chlorophyll and prolycopene content, and aren't necessarily the ripest ones.

There is a somewhat curious catch, however: the scientists didn't actually taste any of the tomatoes they studied in order to see if they were actually any better. Essentially, they performed a chemical analysis of the tomatoes, and figured out that slightly under-ripened ones with a few green spots will have the most sugar, and the most tomato-y scented taste, and concluded that that balance would be ideal.

There's no word yet on how the oblong lumps of heirlooms affect the flavor, but I still always pick the ugliest ones.

High-Throughput Chlorophyll and Carotenoid Profiling Reveals Positive Associations with Sugar and Apocarotenoid Volatile Content in Fruits of Tomato Varieties in Modern and Wild Accessions [Yusuke Aono, Yonathan Asikin, Ning Wang, Denise Tieman, Harry Klee and Miyako Kusano / Metabolites]

Science in your summer garden [Leigh Krietsch Boerner / Chemical and Engineering News]

Image: Public Domain via NeedPix