Tasteless tomatoes get Frankenstein treatment

The supermarket is surely one of the modern wonders. How on earth do they manage to keep stocked up with thousands of different products with little sign of effort. The logistics behind keeping up with their avid shoppers must be mind blowing.

But it doesn't all result in great products, and surely there can be no bigger disappointment than the supermarket tomato. Giving customers the come on with perfect redness, uniform shape and plumpness, they're without fail a huge disappointment every time. Where's the smell associated with allotment tomatoes, the firm flesh and sweet taste? They must really try to arrive at such a bland specimen.

Supermarkets only care about five things... size, weight, uniformity, colour and shelf life. Flavour is an irrelevance. The grower doesn't get a single penny for a sweeter tomato. And it's fraud, because taste is the only thing you can't check until you arrive home. With any other product giving such disappointment you'd be searching out the receipt and taking it back.

Actually, we're all partly to blame. Tomatoes are a summer fruit, and yet we expect them all year round. To satisfy that demand supermarkets source their supplies from all over the planet. But to get them to look inviting on the shelves they have to resort to some sleight of hand.

Tomatoes are picked long before they're ripe. Hard and green, they're much easier to transport than ripe mushy alternatives. Chilled to enhance their transportation lifespan, they begin to lose what little taste they still have. Cool a tomato to below 50 degrees fahrenheit and after 24 hours half of what makes it so appealing will be lost. And what do we British do as soon as we get the tomatoes home... stick them in the fridge of course!

When closer to the sale point they're artificially 'ripened' with ethylene gas. Not as bad as it sounds; it's the same process as putting a ripe banana in with unripened fruit, but nevertheless yet another human intervention.

And the crazy thing is, even when tomatoes are in season, less than half of the produce we buy is grown in the UK! Would you believe home grown green tomatoes taste better than 'ripe' red supermarket tomatoes? It's true, as proved in a blind test.

Of course scientists have arrived at the solution. This summer a missing gene was discovered they think explains the blandness of today's tomatoes. In striving for a more uniform colouring growers have bred in a mutation which results in the missing gene. They're hoping to find a way of breeding that gene back in and restoring the taste.

All sounds a bit Doctor Frankenstein to me. Maybe it's time we got back to basics and just shopped seasonally and British. And maybe when those tomatoes disappoint we should return them for a refund. While we're at it, lets follow suite with bananas, oranges, cucumbers....

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