What’s been going on!
While we are in the middle of tomato season and all of the various festivals and tasting events focused on the fruit I thought it might be a good time to actually talk about tomato flavor and bust one of the big misconceptions about different flavor profiles.
To start, flavor is determined by the variety- how it was bred, including the size of the plant and how it is grown including the soil it is grown in. The bigger the plant, the more photosynthetic area if has, the more sugars and other flavor components the plant will make and put into the fruit. We grow only tall, indeterminate varieties that will have a lot of leaf area. The breeders or choosers in the case of heirloom types, also pick texture and flavor attributes they want or like. Big fruit/small fruit, color, firmer/softer, less juice/more juice, less sugar/more sugar.
The big photosynthetic array also has to have the right materials to work with to make the sugars and other compounds- that would be the soil they are grown in. Greenhouse tomatoes are generally grown in bags or pots of inert, sterile material like coconut husk or peat moss or even rock wool and fed a solution of nutrients. “Field grown” tomatoes are grown in real soil but every soil is different and will have more or less of some nutrients and the biology that makes those nutrients available for the plant roots to take up. Tomatoes grown in sand are different than our tomatoes grown in a rich sandy loam with red clay underneath. It is not even a contest to compare a short determinate commercial variety grown in South Florida in the winter to a tall, indeterminate, heirloom or hybrid variety grown in our upland soils in the full sun and heat of the summer.
One of the most common questions we get and the myth to be busted is “which of these tomatoes is low acid?”. The answer is- none of them. What???!!! There is no such thing as a high acid tomato or a low acid tomato. They are all high acid, as in low pH, the scale that acidity/alkalinity is measured by. Neutral being 7.0, all tomatoes run between 4.3 and 4.9, pretty acid. Less ripe fruit are more acid and become a bit less so as they become fully ripe. So our perception of tomato flavor is more accurately high sugar versus low sugar. The sugars mask the acidity and most good balanced tomatoes have enough sugar to taste some sweetness but also to let the acid be there too.
Because it is so ingrained in us to refer to tomatoes as high or low acid we will continue to describe them that way to most people but just between those of us in the who now know better we will point to the sweet varieties when asked for the low acid ones.
Picture of the Week
Tall tomatoes, growing in soil enriched partly from lush cover crops like the cowpeas and millet in the foreground
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