Researchers Releasing Better Tasting Tomato Varieties
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Old-fashioned, “heirloom” varieties may be losing their edge as the best-tasting tomatoes available. Flavorful new varieties are now entering the field.
Compared to their heirloom kin, these just-released, modern varieties are also easier to grow, said horticulturist Ward Upham at Kansas State University. Yes, their fruit has been flavor-enhanced. But, the plants themselves are disease-resistant, more productive and compact.
These new varieties include Mountain Glory, Red Defender, Scarlet Red, and SecuriTY 28.
“I have yet to see any seed packets for these varieties advertised on the home gardener market. But, the seed is available this year to U.S. commercial growers. So, by spring, gardeners may be able to find transplants at a nearby garden center or greenhouse,” Upham said.
The varieties’ taste improvements trace back to the 1990s. That’s when U.S. Department of Agriculture tomato researcher Ronald Buttery led a team who found something new in the natural chemicals that give tomatoes taste.
The chemical compound that the team extracted had been overlooked until then because it dissolves in water -- including tomato juices. Called furaneol (fur-ANN-ee-uhl), the compound was present in various amounts but proved to be highest in tomatoes known to be better tasting.
“That really caught tomato breeders’ attention,” Upham said. “Soon, some of them had identified the gene that controls the level of furaneol and incorporated it into their breeding programs. We’re now seeing the fruit – pun intended – of their research.”
A modern variety named Fabulous wasn’t part of this breeding program, he added. Yet, it naturally has higher than average levels of furaneol.
“And, Fabulous has been around long enough that seed may be available to home gardeners who would prefer to grow their own 2009 tomatoes from seed,” the horticulturist said.
Upham heads the Kansas Master Gardener program for K-State Research and Extension.
K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.
Story by: Kathleen Wardkward@ksu.eduK-State Research & Extension News
Ward Upham is at 785-532-1438.