Saturday, May 1, 2010

When is a Tomato Not a Tomato?

I get nostalgic remembering the days when a tomato tasted like a tomato, not the anemic looking fruit of the vine I buy in my neighborhood supermarket, not the mealy slices that gets lost in my sandwich or salad, but a juicy rich, red, sweet but tangy globe bursting with flavor. Where have they disappeared to, those beefsteak tomatoes of my youth?


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

17 comments:

Karen@WaistingTime said...

I so agree! There is nothing like the taste of a tomato, fresh off the vine, ripened the way nature intended. I also like to buy them at our farmer's market. I love to snack on the little yellow and orange ones. Yum. In the store, I have found the grape tomatoes are sometimes okay... but that is the best I can say about them. Now I am thinking about a BLT sandwich made with thick slices of ripe, delicious tomatoes!

Aylilth said...

Farmers market the only way to get the best tasting fruits and vegs!!!

FOODalogue said...

...and what happened to roses that you used to sniff with delight?

Patrick said...

Tomatoes rock! I love tomatoes. I love salsa and turn many a tomato into killer salsa. I saute them, stew them, munch them raw, they rock! I pick through them carefully when buying though as I do not like inferior tomatoes to find their way home with me. Generally 1/2 the tomatoes at the supermarket are pitiful excuses for this awesome food. So yes, a tomato is not always a tomato.

✯FiTCETERA✯ said...

I am lucky enough to have a Mum and Stepdad who have a vegetable patch and share their bounty of fresh tomatoes, green onions and green & yellow beans and zucchini with me. You just can't beat the taste of sunwarmed veggies.
At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I think it's downright sinister what is happening to our "food" supply.

Lynda with a Y said...

Red tomato at a farmstand, some fresh, sweet corn. That is all I need.

Mimi said...

Oh--I couldn't agree with you more. We grow our own, and they are heavenly. Nothing like picking it right off the vine, rinsing it off and taking a bite! Talk about FRESH and juicy! But I am so spoiled now -- I won't even eat store-bought anymore. Yuck!

Lucy said...

Oh goddess. Move to South Australia.....tomatoes are given away at the side of the roads........in every glroious home grown shape and shade of red......

Denise said...

I'm looking forward to sampling the tomatoes I'm growing in my community garden...I've got tomatillos, Mr. Stripey (green and yellow), and a couple of other heirloom tomatoes planted. I've got corn going, too, and I'm really looking forward to that, as well!

Reen said...

Well, since I'm a Jersey girl, yep, "jersey tomatoes" are the greatest!!!!! I normally don't buy tomatoes out of season except for grap tomatoes for my salads.

Every summer, I put in about 8 to 10tomato plants. Nothing better than a fresh tomato picked right out of your garden, all warm and juicy. LOVE IT!!!!!

I freeze them and make my own pasta sauce, and I also make fresh salsa, but my very, very favorite thing is a tomato sandwich, just plain tomato, whole grain bread, and some Hellman's mayonnaise. Oh, I can't wait until mid-July and August!

Bobbie's Babbles said...

Thanks for sharing this. I really haven't given this much thought... but I will now.

Linda Pressman said...

When I was a kid I used to eat my neighbor's tomatos right off the vine, like they were apples! Now there's certainly no temptation of that!

This is some sobering information, Ellen. My daughter and I just planted tomato plants. I've basically got two one inch high stems right now. That should put me about two months out at a real tomato! But it will be real, right?

Nona said...

You are so right. I remember some time back going to lunch at my sister-in-law's and tasting one of her home grown tomatoes. It was so juicy and unbelievably delicious. I'd forgotten how amazing a "real" tomato can be.

Valerie @ itsonly100pounds said...

I'm really happy because we just brought home a tomato plant yesterday. We are so looking forward to fresh off the vine tomatoes!!!

Lucy said...

Ellen...if you would like to join in again, I would love it:

http://www.diminishinglucy.com/2010/05/all-new-fat-to-fit-blog-hop.html

Alexia said...

Tomatoes are probably my favorite foods. So oh boy, what a disappointment when they're not as juicy and delicious as we would hope. Organic foods are so expensive and although I agree that it's worth the cost, I sometimes can't afford it. So sometimes I end up with disappointing tomatoes. Ugh.

Sarah said...

I can't wait to get real tomatoes from my garden!