Haven’t we done enough to the poor tomato? We’ve turned the voluptuous fruit into a pale imitation of itself: the average supermarket tomato, turned red with ethylene, tastes like, well, nothing. And now we have to genetically modify it for the sake of ketchup?
At a research farm in California, scientists for H.J. Heinz Co. are also cautiously eyeing their young tomato plants. Their goal, however, is a little more specific.
Heinz is trying to breed a sweeter tomato in order to cut down on the costly corn syrup now used in its ketchup. It’s one response to the soaring price of corn, caused in part by the ethanol boom.
Don’t get me wrong: I love ketchup. In fact, my guilty secret for a deliciously simple tomato sauce for pasta is to add a tablespoon or two of ketchup to the hot oil in which I’m sauteeing my garlic. Once the garlic begins to color, I then add my canned crushed San Marzano tomatoes. The ketchup adds a little sweetness and umami.
But I’m worried about this race to breed a sweeter tomato. Fruits need balance. I used to love white peaches but now every white peach is so treacly, sweet and one-dimensional. In the rush to create a shippable and sweet stone fruit they managed to breed out all the acid, which helped cut the sugariness of the peach. The tastelessness of our fruits and vegetables (at least when compared to their heirloom ancestors) remains one of the starkest reminders that modern technology comes with drawbacks.