Any tomato that tastes terrific most likely owes some of its flavor to a natural chemical called furaneol (pronounced fur-ANN-ee-uhl), ARS scientists have discovered.
A team led by Ronald G. Buttery of the ARS Western Regional Research Center in Albany, California, is the first to find this compound in tomatoes. The scientists rate it as one of the 10 most important chemicals that make up a tomato's sweet, vine-ripened taste.
Plant breeders, says Buttery, can use the findings to make sure furaneol occurs in the new tomatoes they develop. Makers of tomato paste or other foods from processing-type tomatoes can check their products for this new flavor compound, perhaps adding it back if it is lost in processing.
A world authority on tomato flavor, Buttery admits that he "completely missed" furaneol in his previous investigations into the secrets of tomato flavor, probably because furaneol is water-soluble. "That means it can dissolve in tomato's juices," he explains, "and so is very hard to find." The compound's chemical name is 2,5-dimethyl-4-hydroxy-3(2H)-furanone.
Buttery and colleagues uncovered the flavorant by using sodium sulfate, also known as Glauber's salt, to remove all of the water from tomato samples. They pinpointed the chemical when they ran the extract through a laboratory instrument known as a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer. Buttery also presented samples of the compound, at various concentrations, for volunteers on an aroma panel to evaluate by sniffing.
Buttery did the work with colleagues Louisa C. Ling and Gary R. Takeoka at Albany and with Gerhard E. Krammer, formerly at Albany and now with a flavor and fragrance company in Germany.--By Marcia Wood, ARS.
Ronald G. Buttery is in the USDA-ARS Cereal Product Utilization Research Unit, Western Regional Research Center, 800 Buchanan St., Albany, CA 94710; phone (510) 559-5667, fax (510) 559-5777, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org