Why store-bought tomatoes taste like cardboard

April 1, 2011

Store-bought tomatoes taste like cardboard? Here’s why

People who buy fresh local organic produce are often astounded at the rich, succulent flavors that seem to explode in the mouth.

There are a variety of reasons for this, some of them quite technical, not only involving the fertility and trace elements in soil, but also the chemicals plants use to defend themselves when left alone (rather than grown in industrial farming monocultures with poisonous pesticides, herbicides, etc.).

It’s often most pronounced when tomato season arrives and people ask, why do grocery tomatoes taste like cardboard?

That also is for a variety of reasons, including the above and also the fact that most commercial tomatoes are hybrids grown with a preference to be a certain size, weight and shape so that they can be shipped in uniform boxes and also so they will all ripen at the same time (determinate) and have a long shelf life, rather than taste. Add to this the timing of picking.

For tomatoes to be shipped, they are picked at what’s called the “breaker” or “mature green” stage, which is not mature at all.

It’s when the tomato is showing the first hint of blush on the skin. Only 5 percent of the potential flavor of the tomato is in the fruit!

Yet, this is the stage from which the tomato you buy in the grocery is picked, so that it can be trucked across country, or countries, held in warehouses, distributed to stores sites, displayed on shelves and, ultimately, bought by a consumer.

So, what do we want in a tomato?

Here in Mississippi, in addition to flavor, we want the plant to survive the hot, humid weather.

Most of our tomato problems are because it’s too moist, and you get all kinds of rots and blights, or because it’s too hot (more than 100 degrees) and the fruits won’t “set.”

Here are a couple of varieties to consider (though by all means, if you are successful with what you are growing, stick with it!):

•Homestead24 (certified organic; for hot, humid weather, from Florida);

•Neptune (certified organic, hot, humid, from Florida);

•Cherokee Purple (heirloom from Tennessee; hot weather tolerant);

•Arkansas Traveler (heirloom, hot, humid).

If not available at a seed store, near you try: TomatoFest (http:// store.tomatofest.com/); Box 628; Little River CA 95456.

Faith, mustard seeds and jets. During U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ recent visit to Mississippi, he mentioned that the Navy is venturing into biofuels to end reliance on fossil fuels.

I asked him if it was corn-based (ethanol hikes food costs and is nonsustainable, using more energy to produce than it produces) and he said, no, it was a type of mustard seed. I thought maybe he had gotten his facts confused with a biblical verse.

But, intrigued, I inquired further, and his office reported it’s specifically Camelina sativa, and sent the following facts:

•Camelina is a genus in a flowering plant family related to the mustard plant, and its seeds can be refined into a biofuel.

•It can be used as a rotation crop or on fallow land.

•It is naturally occurring in all 50 states except Hawaii.

•It’s currently cultivated in Florida: 7,000 acres.

•On Earth Day last year, the Navy flew an F/A-18 Hornet – named the “Green Hornet” – 1.2 times the speed of sound on a 50-50 blend of camelina and JP-5, and is testing and certifying all its aircraft on the same blends.

This might be a cash crop for Mississippi farmers.

It’s certainly worth exploring.

News for Beeks: Those interested in beekeeping should check out their local Mississippi clubs. They love newcomers! See:

•Central Mississippi Beekeepers Association, for beekeepers in the Jackson, Clinton, Ridgeland, Raymond, Madison, Pearl, Florence and Brandon area. Meetings are the third Tuesday night of each month in Clinton. For details, contact Stan or Cheryl Yeagley at (601) 924-2582, email candsyeagley@ netzero.net

•Marion County Beekeepers Association meets monthly for beekeepers in the Columbia, Foxworth, Sumrall area. For details, contact D. L. Wesley at (601) 736-3272, email dwesley39483@msn.com.

•Southeast Mississippi Beekeepers Association meets monthly for beekeepers in the Laurel, Ellisville area. For details, Contact John Tullos, (601) 782-9234, email jtullos@bellsouth.net or Hubert Tubbs, (601) 382-2607 or email Karen_tubbs @bellsouth.net

•Gulf Coast Beekeepers Association meets monthly for beekeepers along the Gulf Coast. For details, contact Doug Lowery, (228) 826-2234.

•N.E. Mississippi Beekeepers Assocation meets quarterly in Fulton. For details, contact Romona Edge, (662) 862-3201, email romonam@ext.msstate.edu.

•Delta Area Beekeepers Associaton meets as scheduled. For details, contact Stanley Holland, (662) 745-0529, email holland_stanley@bellsouth.net.

•Lafayette County Beekeepers Assocation meets as scheduled. For details, contact the local county extension office or Harold Brummett, 25 CR 4009, Oxford MS 39655.

Bee Workshops: The April 7 Jackson beekeeping short course by the Mississippi Beekeepers Association is filled to overflowing; but there are upcoming ones, May 13-14 in Jackson (hosted by Central Miss. Beekeepers Assn.) and in Verona June 3-4 and in Columbia June 15-17. For details, contact: Harry Fulton, Box 5207, MS State MS 39762; email: Harry@mdac.state.ms.us.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

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