In Refrigerators, Tomatoes Lose Flavor at the Genetic Level
I think everyone knows not to refrigerate fresh tomatoes, but maybe not yet. Joanna Klein reports in the NY Times:
The tomato hitching a ride home in your grocery bag today is not the tomato it used to be. No matter if you bought plum, cherry or heirloom, if you wanted the tastiest tomato, you should have picked it yourself and eaten it immediately.
That’s because a tomato’s flavor — made up of sugars, acids and chemicals called volatiles — degrades as soon as it’s picked from the vine. There’s only one thing you can do now: Keep it out of the fridge.
Researchers at The University of Florida have found in a study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that when tomatoes are stored at the temperature kept in most refrigerators, irreversible genetic changes take place that erase some of their flavors forever.
Harry J. Klee, a professor of horticultural sciences who led the study, and his colleagues took two varieties of tomatoes — an heirloom and a more common modern variety — and stored them at 41 degrees Fahrenheit before letting them recover at room temperature (68 degrees Fahrenheit). When they looked at what happened inside the tomatoes in cold temperatures, Dr. Klee said the subtropical fruit went into shock, producing especially damaging changes after a week of storage. After they were allowed to warm up, even for a day, some genes in the tomatoes that created its flavor volatiles had turned off and stayed off.
It’s like a symphony: “Remove the violins and the woodwinds,” Dr. Klee wrote in an email. “You still have noise, but it’s not the same. Add back just the violins and it still isn’t right. You need that orchestra of 30 or more chemicals in the right balance to give you a good tomato.”
When you can get fresh tomatoes, Dr. Klee recommends storing them at room temperature, to preserve their flavor, and eating them within a week of bringing them home. If you see your grocer storing them at temperatures that are too cold, tell them not to, he says. . .