Building a better tomato, one bloom at a time

- The University of Florida may bleed orange and blue, but in his area on the Gainesville campus, Professor Harry Klee sees red.  Improving tomatoes for consumers has been his focus

“It’s been a project that's been ongoing now for well over a decade,” he told FOX 13.  “We have worked to understand what is flavor just, the fundamentals of what's in the tomato fruit that makes you like that tomato.”

Part of that effort is making the tomato sweeter.  But it's taken a village to try and come up with the right kind of product.

“Sweet is probably the single most important driver of whether people like a food or not. So sweeter is better,” he continued.  “We’ve integrated everything from a psychologist to a food scientist to biochemistry to genetics.”

Klee says his tomatoes are the result of natural breeding and not genetic modification.

“As soon as they flower, we collect pollen from one plant, transfer it to another plant, make crosses, and develop the next generation.”

The goal here is not only quality, but affordability.

“The hope is that we can make the supermarket tomato have really good flavor and we can hopefully drive people to like the tomato more. You can get decent flavored tomatoes today, but they cost a lot more.”

But there's a lot to consider.

“We have to do it within the context of the commercial growers,” he explained.  “We have to be able to enhance the flavor without compromising all of the progress that the breeders have made in terms of yield and disease resistance and shipability over the last decades.”

So far, he says, he's gotten some rave reviews.

“We've made marinara with some of our new tomatoes and it's just fabulous,” he bragged.  “In fact, we even did a consumer panel here at the Food Science Department and the fresh product made from our tomato just blew away all of the commercial varieties that we bought -- and some of these varieties that we bought were $9, $10 a jar and, our stuff just blew them away.”

Klee is hoping to get his product on the tables of consumers sooner rather than later.

“This is the future,” he added.  “Hopefully this is going to be your next generation, better-tasting tomato in another year.”

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