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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Ripe tomatoes on the vine
Tomatoes kept at room temperature will release more flavor compounds when cut up than will refrigerated tomatoes.


For further reading

Two Approaches to Enhancing Tomato Flavor

By Dennis O’Brien
May 12, 2016

Two Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Fort Pierce, Florida, have taken different approaches to enhancing the flavor of tomatoes.

ARS plant physiologist Jinhe Bai and his colleagues at the U.S. Horticulture Research Laboratory studied the effects of refrigerating tomatoes and dipping them in hot water to make them easier to peel—a practice known as “blanching.”

Bai and his colleagues divided 60 tomatoes into three groups—refrigerating one group, keeping a second group at room temperature and dipping the third group in 122 F water for 5 minutes to simulate blanching. They then used gas chromatography and an “electronic nose” to measure 45 volatile compounds associated with flavor released when the tomatoes were cut up.

The results showed that refrigeration greatly reduced 25 of 42 aroma compounds and reduced volatile levels overall by 68 percent. Blanching also greatly reduced 22 of 42 compounds and reduced volatile levels overall by 63 percent. The results spell out why it is better to store tomatoes—and wash them before use—at room temperature.

Elizabeth Baldwin, an ARS horticulturist and research leader in Fort Pierce, wanted to find tomato breeders interested in developing varieties with enhanced flavor. She also wanted to identify varieties and growing seasons best suited to two of Florida’s major tomato production areas.

She and her colleagues raised 38 types of tomatoes over seven years in south Florida and west-central Florida, timing production for harvest in March, June and December.

They used human taste-test panels to evaluate flavor and measured the tomatoes’ sugars, acids and 29 key aroma compounds.

The results showed that the tomatoes needed to contain a certain amount of acids to have adequate flavor and that the more sugar they contained, the better they tasted. Tomatoes harvested in June had more sugar and fruity volatiles than those harvested in December, probably because they received more sunshine. Tomatoes harvested in March ranked in the middle in flavor.

Read more about tomato flavor research in the May 2016 issue of AgResearch.

ARS is USDA’s chief intramural scientific research agency.


Last Modified: 8/12/2016
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