Tomato lovers know that a sprinkling of salt enhances the flavor of even the best field-ripened specimen. Some recent news that bodes well for improved flavor in greenhouse tomatoes: you can enhance tomato flavor by salting the plant as the fruit grows! At the Institute of Vegetable Science in Freising, German scientists grew hydroponic tomatoes in a solution that was 0.1% sodium chloride, about one-thirtieth the salinity of seawater. The plants produced fruits with significantly higher levels of flavorful organic acids and sugars, and as much as a third more vitamin C and beta-carotene (the precursor to vitamin A) and the antioxidant red pigment lycopene. The researchers don’t say whether the tomatoes were saltier than usual. They were smaller, so salting the growing medium may be the hydroponic equivalent of dry-farming, which restricts the availability of water to the plant and the dilution of flavor and nutrients.
Perhaps I’ll try watering my heirloom tomatoes this year with salty water. (Of course, given my lack of green thumbness, I’l probably end up scorching my little plot of earth.)