Have you experienced the unbearable sadness of a lackluster tomato? Standing in front of tables piled high with perfect red, round fruit, we convince ourselves that we know how to pick one that will be a tasty prize on our salad. Sadly, finding a commercially grown tomato with moan-worthy flavor is like finding a needle in a haystack.

“Tomato is a particularly complicated flavor; there are many genes producing many different flavors,” said Harry Klee, horticulture professor with the University of Florida. “But it’s also a product of the environment, soil and tomato quality. And it’s highly subjective to each individual.”

Klee, a renowned researcher known for his work in breeding flavor back into commercially grown tomatoes, said that modern tomatoes aren’t as flavorful. It’s been proven, he said, due to breeders selecting for size, yield, pest resistance and other grower considerations. Each selection for these things often came at a small cost to the flavor of the tomato. Every small loss that has been added up over decades resulted in a fruit that doesn’t quite live up to expectations.

“Imagine a symphony,” Klee said. “If one violin leaves it’s no big deal, but when more and more leave, slowly the music changes. That’s what happened to modern tomatoes over the past 50 years: We lost a sugar here, a volatile there. Selecting for larger tomatoes means less sugar, less flavor. There’s more sugar in smaller fruit.”

Klee has an interdisciplinary team working on identifying the flavors consumers like, then working backwards to breed those genes back into the tomato. There’s a psychology of flavor, taste and smell — but also biology as well.

According to the Center for Smell and Taste at the University of Florida, taste happens mostly on the tongue but also other areas with taste buds, such as the soft palate. While taste is a major component of flavor, aroma also plays a role. Aroma from volatile chemicals in tomatoes is one area Klee is focusing on.

“What happens in the mouth when you chew the tomato, it releases volatile chemicals that go up into your olfactory senses,” said Klee. “Taste in the mouth is sweet, sour, salty, while flavor is from the volatile chemicals in the fruit. Volatiles are essential to good flavor. Test it yourself — take a tomato and hold your nose so you can’t smell it when you eat it.”

By crossing heirloom tomatoes with modern elite varieties, Klee has developed several with great flavor. Making them available to the home gardener, he’s released them through plant brand Proven Winners as Garden Gem and Garden Treasure. Try them next year to see if you agree that they’re vigorous, disease-resistant and flavorful.

In the meantime, if you’ve got a hankering for great tomatoes, head out to the Taste of Tomato from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Sept. 7 at Growing Gardens’ barn, 1630 Hawthorne Ave., Boulder.  Sponsored by Harlequin’s Gardens and Growing Gardens of Boulder County, the Taste of Tomato is an opportunity to sample the love apple in its many forms, stripes, colors, shapes and sizes. Gardeners can bring their own tomatoes for others sample the products they’re growing. Each year, tomato enthusiasts gather to taste 65 to 100 varieties of the fruit and vote on the tastiest of the lot.

Entry is free if you bring three or more medium to large tomatoes or 10 cherry tomatoes of one kind, with the variety name on a card, to donate to the tasting. All entries must be home-grown. If you have no tomatoes to bring, there will be a $5 entrance fee. Visit Harlequin’s Gardens for more information on the Taste of Tomato.

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