Heirloom Tomatos: Taste to Genes


As a tomato-holic, from salad to pizza, and plant biologist, it's obvious for me to write about tomatos in details. The initial question which drove me to find more about tomato was "taste". What makes it atrractive to me  and to others tomato-lovers as well as. Let's take an overview on the chemical constituents which bring the taste.  It's simple. Just sugars like glucose, fructose, citric acid, malic acids, ascorbic acids, and few volatile compounds. Volatile compounds are important here to consider. These volatile compounds are perceived by our taste bud. But, the concentration of these volatile compounds varies and the perception sensitivity of particular volatile compounds depends on individual. So, in non-scientific conclusion, the same tomato variety will not taste "best" to everyone. Scientifically speaking, individuals' senstivity to specific volatile compounds are dependent on our genetic make up. In addition, to sense  a volatile compound, it needs to pass the thresold concentration of our perception. Sometimes low amount of a particular volatile compound may be sensed by our taste bud due to higher sensitivity. 


One particular research has been drawn my attention. It's about "Heirloom tomatos". Heirloom plants are defined as  an old cultivar that is still maintained by gardeners and farmers particularly in isolated or ethnic communities. These may have been commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but are not used in modern large-scale agriculture.  Professor Harry Klee's team from University of Florida investigates about the popularity of heirloom tomato varieties among people, responsible volatile compounds and required genes which are undispensable for producing particular volatile compounds through, mostly, enzymatic reactions. The following chart shows the rating (scoring method is ignored to keep the post simple. For curious readers, the link of original research article is provided below) of popularity of heriloom tomatos. 

   
Variety
LIKING
Maglia Rosa Cherry
30.48
Garden Gem
28.52
Garden Gem
26.51
Early Red Chief
22.37
Super Sioux
21.29
St. Pierre
21.19
St. Pierre
20.70
Peron Sprayless
20.04
Yellow Jelly Bean
19.09
Maglia Rosa Cherry
18.94
Mexico Midget
18.46
Gulf State Market
17.68
Garden Treasure
16.79
Kentucky Beefsteak
16.69
Wisconsin 55
16.08
UF Secret 153
16.00
Three Sisters
15.99
Orange Queen
15.75
Bloody Butcher
15.68
Valencia
15.47
Three Sisters
15.45
Skorospelka Red
15.33
Yellow Perfection
15.11
Super Sioux
14.75
Garden Peach
14.62
Lemon Drop
13.94
Red Calabash
13.87
Clear Pink Slicer
13.78
Czech Bush Red
13.63
Red House Free Standing
12.53
Amish Salad
12.50
Wisconsin 55
12.43
Ailsa Craig
12.38
UF Secret 182
12.21
Green Zebra
11.35
St. Pierre
10.59
Bloody Butcher
10.23
Florida 47
10.14
Matina
  9.36
Marmande VFA
  8.27
Zapotec
  7.89
Flora-Dade
  7.63
Watermelon Beefsteak
  7.49
Tigerella Orange
  7.35
Martian Giant
  7.27
LA1482
  6.12
Matt's Wild Cherry
  4.53



Heirloom definition: Wikipedia 
Details about Professor Harry Klee's research: Klee lab

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