The truth of the matter is that the tomatoes we buy in the grocery store are, more than likely, grown in Florida, California or Mexico. They are picked when considered "mature green", just starting to turn color but still nice and firm. They are then crated and stacked for three days in an ethylene (a colorless flammable gas derived from petroleum) filled room. The enzymes changes the tomatoes' starch to sugar which turns them red. This method of artificially ripening tomatoes does not enhance the taste, nor does the fact that tomatoes are often shipped with lettuce at 37° F which will permanently stop the tomato from any further ripening by killing its enzymes. And if by chance a tomato escapes this treatment, the average consumer immediately puts them in the refrigerator when they get home anyway, where the average temperature is 40°. It's a lose-lose situation for the tomato.
So what are your tomato's chances of being flavorful when you are ready to slice them? So far, not so good and we haven't even mentioned over-farming which depletes the nutrients in the soil. It they're not there, the plants can't absorb them, especially the trace minerals which help maintain our good health. The average vegetable, according to Donald R. Davis, a former research associate with the Biochemical Institute, "is anywhere from 5% to 40% lower in minerals (including magnesium, iron, calcium and zinc) than those harvested just 50 years ago." These are the nutrients that give fruits and vegetables their good flavors.
The idea of getting that tomato of your memories sounds bleak, doesn't it? Here are some ideas for you:
- Buy local produce
- Find nearby farmer's markets and produce stands
- Buy organic
- Grow your own
- Use your nose when selecting tomatoes. Sniff the blossom end (not the stem end). Flavorful tomatoes will have a rich aroma.
- Store fresh ripe tomatoes stem-side down, in a cool, dark place and use within a few days.
- If you must refrigerate the tomato, take it out and let it return to room temperature.
Perhaps one day we might recapture the flavor of that perfect tomato, I certainly hope so. But for now, at the exorbitant prices being charged for inferior tomatoes, I prefer to spend more and buy organic Heirloom tomatoes, they seem to be the closest I can get to that fading memory. For me, a tomato is not always a tomato. What are your thoughts?
And here is a little treat for you, Pablo Neruda's Ode to Tomatoes