Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Science: it's complicated

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  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Rich Lock,

    It’s kg yield that is maximised to maximise profit. It isn’t the taste.

    Also: appearance. Which I think is the main thing that conspires oxheart tomatoes. In this respect the consumer contributes by being bloody stupid.

    (And really is there anything more perfect in appearance and horrible in taste than the chilled fruit you get on airplanes?)

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7320 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Emma Hart,

    drink nutrasweet

    Ack phtooey!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3221 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Emma Hart,

    at some point you can expect to listen to my "How can people drink nutrasweet when it tastes like electrical tape?" rant

    And someone will ask how you know what that tastes like..

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16277 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler, in reply to Sacha,

    “How can people drink nutrasweet when it tastes like electrical tape?”

    And someone will ask how you know what that tastes like..

    Because you needed to repair some wiring, and had to bite the tape into strips because you forgot the scissors. Obviously.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 799 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    In this respect the consumer contributes by being bloody stupid

    Not entirely fair. The real problem is marketing. What happens is the producers ask a marketing firm to do a survey to find out which tomato the public prefer. Marketing company has lunch ... at Cibo. Then comes up with a survey consisting of a picture of two tomatoes and asks 100 people at the supermarket which picture of a tomato they prefer, then they have dinner ... at Clooney. Marketing company then writes a 29 page report on their survey, with pictures and a powerpoint presentation and has lunch ... at Euro. Marketing company then charges the producers $127ooo plus expenses. The producer having paid a shit load for the market report plant bright red round tomatoes. The supermarkets having also paid the marketing company for the same report will only stock the bright red round tomato.

    Consumers when they complain they can't get nice tasting tomatoes are told that they are outliers and most of the public prefer the tasteless tomatoes ... and they did an expensive market survey to prove that.

    Marketing executives stop at Sabato on the way home to pick up vine ripe tomatoes for dinner.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3221 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Rich Lock,

    I'm reasonably confident that you could ask any backyard cultivator which has more taste: homegrown or supermarket, and they'd point to the homegrown.

    There are a few blah old-school tomato varieties that persist in seed catalogs and remain mysteriously popular. The prison-grown seedlings that the Christchurch City Council distribute to their tenants would seem to be drawn from that gene pool. Probably a lapsed commercial variety named something like "Don't Frighten The Chooks."

    Supermarket tomatoes have improved out of sight thanks to improved breeding. There were some abominations around in the 70s, and those pale orange imposters from Queensland seem to have finally vanished. The premium price commanded by vine-ripened "trusses" can't all be due to Nigella having told people they're better. And unless you carefully remove the fruit before you pay, they've found a way to sell you the stalks.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3326 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Joe Wylie,

    The premium price commanded by vine-ripened “trusses” can’t all be due to Nigella having told people they’re better. And unless you carefully remove the fruit before you pay, they’ve found a way to sell you the stalks.

    Does leaving the tomato on a bit of disembodied vine help in the process of ripening? or is it that the mixture of red and green reminds us of Christmas and triggers our pleasure centres at the supermarket?

    The wireless north ;-) • Since Dec 2006 • 4613 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    Does leaving the tomato on a bit of disembodied vine help in the process of ripening?

    Maybe. But the biggest thing is that the stalk has lots and lots of the compounds that smell of tomato. So for marketing purposes since they smell like tomatoes people will think they taste of tomatoes.

    That said, some of the companies that sell tomatoes on the truss also vine ripen them.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3221 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Trust me the article is much more a failure of journalism than a representation of Steve Tanksley's ignorance. He really is very smart and has a deep knowledge of both the science and the industry.

    Thanks for that Bart. Having Googled Tanksley, all I can say is he's certainly been very poorly served by that piece. While he probably has better things to do than set the record straight, others have put their oars in.

    Does leaving the tomato on a bit of disembodied vine help in the process of ripening?

    In my very humble and subjective experience, picking a hard green tomato and waiting for it to ripen results in an underflavoured fruit. If you pick it once the faintest blush of colour shows it's no different from leaving the fruit to fully ripen on the vine. It seems to be true, and I'm kind of curious as to why.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3326 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Sacha,

    And someone will ask how you know what that tastes like..

    And then they will remember that one shouldn't ask questions one doesn't want to know the answer to.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4328 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Emma Hart,

    And then they will remember that one shouldn’t ask questions one doesn’t want to know the answer to.

    I can't be knowin' that!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3221 posts Report Reply

  • JLM, in reply to Joe Wylie,

    There are a few blah old-school tomato varieties that persist in seed catalogs and remain mysteriously popular.

    One I really like that's not too "blah" is Bloody Butcher from Kings, because it seems to get ripe fruit weeks before the others, both under glass and outside - a big plus down here in the deep south. And it keeps on giving, too.

    Judy Martin's southern sl… • Since Apr 2007 • 222 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Ignorance is bliss

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16277 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Joe Wylie,

    If you pick it once the faintest blush of colour shows there’s no detectable difference between leaving the fruit to fully ripen on the vine. It seems to be true, and I’m kind of curious as to why.

    We don't know ... yet. Well we sort of know.

    A lot of fruit undergo what is called a "climacteric" as they mature. It is a point when the fruit has pretty much finished all cell division and most of the cell expansion. We call that stage "mature green". It's really attractive for growers to harvest at mature green because the fruit are a bit firmer and don't get damaged in transport so easily.

    Then at some point the fruit suddenly starts respiring very rapidly (breathing if you like, actually using oxygen and expelling CO2). At that time there is also a burst of ethylene, a gas that is produced by the plant and used as a signal by the plant. Once that ethylene production starts it is self amplifying.

    It is the ethylene signal that starts up all the enzyme pathways that produce sugars from starches and also all the flavour and aroma compounds. Essentially it is the signal that the plant uses when the seeds are mature and the fruit is ready to be distributed and spread the seed with it. All the flavour and sugars and colour changes are there to attract whatever it is that spreads the seed around. In the case of apples it's bears!

    Because the ethylene production is self amplifying if you pick the fruit after it has started it tends to continue by itself.

    If you pick the fruit just after it is mature but before ethylene production has started then you can hold the fruit in an ethylene free environment and then give the fruit a burst of ethylene and ripening with continue as normal.

    BUT

    It's really hard to tell the difference between mature green and immature green. It's even harder for fruit that don't undergo any colour change on the tree eg avocado or kiwifruit. If you get it wrong by a lot no amount of ethylene will produce ripening. If you get it wrong by a little some of the ripening pathways will work eg colour development. But other pathways won't eg flavour. That's why you often see paler tasteless tomatoes in the supermarket. They were picked too early and will never ever ripen.

    The really big question is what defines "mature green"? And we don't really know for sure. If we knew then maybe we could create some kind of test for it so growers knew when it was ok to harvest.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3221 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Joe Wylie,

    Supermarket tomatoes have improved out of sight thanks to improved breeding. There were some abominations around in the 70s, and those pale orange imposters from Queensland seem to have finally vanished.

    Right through until the early 2000s, supermarket tomatoes were almost all horrible. They were basically intended not to ripen, so they’d stay “fresh” through the long supermarket supply chains.

    IIRC, it was a noisy campaign by Kim Hill via her radio show that helped move things along. Supermarkets have also had to learn to design their supply chains to suit the customer rather than the supermarket. But in season, the likes of Fruit World will still have much better and cheaper tomatoes – and a better range – than the supermarkets.

    The premium price commanded by vine-ripened “trusses” can’t all be due to Nigella having told people they’re better. And unless you carefully remove the fruit before you pay, they’ve found a way to sell you the stalks.

    They are different tomatoes, in general – especially the small ‘n’ sweet ones. It’s good to be able to buy Romas in season, and acid free ones (which *never* turn up on the vine for some reason).

    But yeah, none of them ever taste like my grandpa’s tomatoes used to.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18512 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    In the case of apples it's bears!

    Yes! And as this superb saga recounts, more than a little historical help from horses. Not to mention the truth about Johnny Appleseed (it was all about cider, bugger keeping the doctor away).

    Right through until the early 2000s, supermarket tomatoes were almost all horrible. They were basically intended not to ripen, so they’d stay “fresh” through the long supermarket supply chains.

    There was a particularly vile variety that seemed to stay firm and red forever. If you left it too long, when you sliced it you'd find the seeds in a fairly advanced stage of germination. How did that happen?

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3326 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    In the case of apples it's bears!

    Awesome

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16277 posts Report Reply

  • JackElder, in reply to Sacha,

    In the case of apples it’s bears!

    I clicked onto the last page of this discussion, saw only this quote, and assumed that the conversation had once again converged to Steve Jobs. Presumably revealing a hitherto unknown side to his character.

    Wellington • Since Mar 2008 • 708 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to JackElder,

    or something about investor sentiment

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16277 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Eclectic tastes...

    How can people drink nutrasweet
    when it tastes like electrical tape?

    Wired for sweetness and light?

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 4555 posts Report Reply

  • recordari,

    It's a Sparta meme.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart,

    A great mystery to me is why cherry tomatoes are so expensive to buy when they are so easy and prolific to grow - even in the horticultural wasteland that is the top of the Brooklyn hill, they do OK most years.
    Bart?
    Anyone?

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2008 • 633 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to recordari,

    Jekyll and Formaldehyde...

    It’s a Sparta meme.

    you old Laconophiliac you...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 4555 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    O just by the by -thank you so much, Bart, for your sharing of scientific knowledge: it adds and expands the knowledge that Joe has, (just an instance.) Much appreciated.

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Heads up...
    Sofie, (and everyone else) something to check out with the new telescope...
    November 8 near earth asteroid 2005 YU55 whizzes by (hopefully) at a mere .8 LD - here's the approach simulation
    about the same time the Earth should be passing through both the Leonid meteor shower and the tail of comet c/2010 X1 Elenin.

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 4555 posts Report Reply

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