Researchers have discovered the reason for tomatoes losing flavor after being refrigerated. Specific genes that contribute to flavor and aroma are shut off at cooler temperatures. The findings may help scientists develop tomatoes that stay flavorful in the refrigerator. The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
People have long complained that tomatoes from grocery stores don’t have the same flavor as ones that were locally grown or from the garden. This difference has generally been attributed to refrigeration since grocery store tomatoes are stored at cool temperatures. There had never been any formal research conducted on this phenomenon until recently.
A team of scientists chilled tomatoes to find out what caused them to lose flavor. They found that when tomatoes were stored below 54 degrees Fahrenheit, the concentration of flavor-enhancing chemicals dropped. Tomatoes lose these chemicals, called volatiles, after a week of cool storage. There was also a genetic factor involved. In cooler temperatures, the genes that normally help produce the volatiles were switched off. While some of these genes turned back on at room temperature, others stayed inactive permanently because of a chemical reaction called methylation. Refrigerating the tomatoes for just a few days didn’t affect taste or aroma, the reaction only occurred after the tomatoes were chilled for seven days. The team believes that these findings could lead to the development of cold-resistant tomato varieties that don’t lose flavor after refrigeration.
The research team’s findings provide an answer for why tomatoes seem to lose flavor after being stored in the fridge. By understanding the chemical and genetic factors behind this effect, scientists may be able to develop tomatoes that stay flavorful, even in cold temperatures. Until then, consider storing your tomatoes on the counter or somewhere else that stays at room temperature or above.
Zhang et al. Chilling-induced tomato flavor loss is associated with altered volatile synthesis and transient changes in DNA methylation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2016).