I wrote a story and shot an accompanying video about the University of Florida’s Tasti-Lee tomato variety in October 2011 that still is one of the most widely commented and viewed on the website of Citrus + Vegetable, a sister publication of The Packer.
The article still draws debate about whether the Tasti-Lee, which has a deep red color and a taste similar to homegrown tomatoes, is better than the UglyRipe from Santa Sweets, Plant City, Fla., or one from EuroFresh Farms, Willcox, Ariz.
Regardless of the opinion, it shows that consumers are clamoring for flavor, and vegetable seed companies and breeders are taking note.
Creve Couer, Mo.-based Monsanto Co.’s vegetable division has been collaborating with Harry Klee, a University of Florida molecular horticulturist, on tomato flavor.
Flavor isn’t just about sugar levels or brix, said Sekhar Boddupalli, Monsanto Co. vegetable global consumer research and development lead in Woodland, Calif.
It’s a complicated mix of other chemical components as well as appearance, smell, texture and mouth feel.
Klee recently published research outlining the more than 400 different compounds he’s identified that impart flavor to tomatoes.
Monsanto also has conducted consumer sensory panels with more than 150 heirloom tomato varieties to find the highest rated ones. From there, the company delves into the genetics to find out what makes them so tasty.
The information, which has been incorporated into its tomato breeding efforts, has yielded one of its first results — the Ventero, a deep red, intensely flavored cherry type with long shelf life that’s marketed in Europe.
Jay Scott, the University of Florida breeder that led development of the original Tasti-Lee, is working on a new and improved variety.
But consumers and retailers already have taken note of his original release.
Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, Calif., a West Coast grower of Tasti-Lee, showed it off at United Fresh 2013, May 14-16 in San Diego.
Chef Sevan Abdessian of Recess restaurant in Glendale created a snack using a slice of the Tasti-Lee, some burrata — an Italian cheese similar to mozzarella — and micro-basil plants.