Why Home-grown Tomatoes Taste Better than Bought Tomatoes

3 Jun

Researchers at the University of Florida say they have discovered exactly why the tomatoes we grow in our veggie gardens at home taste so much better than those sold in shops and supermarkets.

Their findings published in the online version of Current Biology (24 May 2012) titled The Chemical Interactions Underlying Tomato Flavor Preferences, state that heirloom tomatoes have an incredibly varied chemical diversity they were not previously aware of.

Apparently the intensity of flavours link to twelve chemical compounds in heirloom varieties, while sweetness links to twelve other chemicals, eight of which impact directly on the flavour of the fruit.


They also reveal that they have now found “a novel way” to increase the “perception of sweetness” of tomatoes without the addition of any form of sugar.

Research Project

At least 18 scientists were involved in this research project that involved studying some 274 tomato samples taken from 152 heirloom varieties that have been grown for considerably longer than most of our so-called commercial varieties have been produced.

According to the newly released report, historical research into food flavours has focused largely on smell. This, they say has prioritized “aroma volatiles” according to the rate at which odour intensities grow “above threshold”, but has tended to ignore the variation in the rate at which these intensities increase.

In addition they state that flavour volatiles (that change quite rapidly, vaporizing and sending scent molecules into the air) also affect the perception of how sweet the tomatoes are, through the sense of smell.

Since the chemical composition of foodstuffs (in this case tomatoes) doesn’t give us any clue as to whether people will like the taste of different types, the researchers decided to change their approach in an attempt to clarify what they refer to as flavour chemistry.

By evaluating the fruit in a different way, they say they were able to create a “predictive and testable model of liking” that links to various natural chemicals. These, in turn, produce a variety of different tomato fruit flavours.

How the Research was Carried Out

It seems that the researchers went back to basics and asked real people to evaluate the different tomatoes they had chosen.

What they did was to get volunteers to taste the tomatoes they had identified as having the most “chemical diversity” and asked them to rate the taste. Ratings included:

• like or dislike

• flavour intensity

• sweetness

• sourness

Does this Mean we Can Expect Tasty, Juicy Tomatoes in Our Shops Soon?

Probably not… although researcher Harry Klee has been quoted as saying: “We now know exactly what we need to do to fix the broken tomato”.

“Their lack of flavor is a major focus of consumer dissatisfaction with modern agriculture. One could do worse than to be known as the person who helped fix flavor.”

In the meantime, keep on growing your own tomatoes in your veggie patch – just in case they don’t get it right any time soon.

Our book How To Grow Juicy Tasty Tomatoes can help you taste the difference.

  • actionjksn

    Are the heirloom tomatoes the only home grown variety’s that taste better? Are the Better Boys and Red Beefsteak, Beefmaster, Husky Cherry Red Going to taste better than the grocery store variety’s? I’m growing my first vegetable garden and I hope I’m not growing some mediocre tasting variety’s of tomatoes. I’m growing 100% organic and I want it to taste a lot better than the store bought types.

    • Thanks for your question. It’s a good one! The truth is that there’s over 10,000 varieties of tomatoes throughout the world and they all taste different. Many heirlooms do tend to have more flavour than the hybrid varieties you get in supermarkets – these are bred for shelf life longevity, which means the flavour is the tradeoff. I’ve tried beefsteak, and they’re great. Haven’t tried the other varieties. Our book How to Grow Juicy Tasty Tomatoes comes with a bonus CD database of 1300 varieties. Whilst we don’t give flavour ratings, the database does contain images, cultivation info and usage info. We also explain more about the difference between heirlooms and hybrids in great detail on pages 11-15. https://bestjuicytomatoes.com

      Hope this helps!