For many people, growing their own tomatoes is all about the flavor. Store-bought tomatoes often taste disappointing compared to homegrown crops, but the reasons behind this are complex.
Perceived flavor is derived from a combination of taste and smell. Over 400 volatile compounds have been identified in tomatoes, of which about 30 are thought to contribute to aroma.
The traditional sweet-sour taste of a tomato results from the sugar and organic-acid content of the fruit. Some tomatoes have a higher sugar content than others; for example, 'Black Cherry' contains twice as much sugar as the oxheart 'Sterling Old Norway.' Sugar content, however, can vary with season and the ripeness of the fruit. The flavor of tomatoes ripening in the increased sunlight of high summer is usually better than that of earlier crops.
For many years, commercial tomatoes have often been harvested when green and
Green Zebra (p26)
then exposed to ethylene gas to ripen them in storage. Tomatoes ripened on the vine are thought to have a much better flavor, although much of the aroma is released by the vine itself. Fruits nibbled while you work among the plants often taste best of all.
The tastiest of them all?
There is no doubt that flavor varies greatly between tomatoes. White and yellow fruits are generally less acidic than red tomatoes. Many black- and brown-fruited plants are praised for their more complex flavors.
Varieties that are regularly commended as particularly flavorsome include the mini-plum 'Floridity' (p70), yellow cherry 'Snowberry' (p40), beefsteak 'Brandywine' (p59) in its various incarnations, the French 'Carmello,' 'Green Zebra,' and 'Black Prince.'
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