Scientists Are Closer Than Ever to Growing a Tomato That Ripens But Doesn't Rot

By Ria Misra on at

Keeping a tomato flavourful and firm past a few days is no easy task, as anyone who has made the catastrophic mistake of sticking a tomato in the fridge can attest. Now, new research could finally give us a much longer span of time to eat that tomato.

The short shelf-life of a tomato is due to the texture more than the taste. Eat a tomato too soon and the tomato will be flavourless and hard. Wait even a little too long and the tomato turns to mush. A new paper out today in Nature Biotechnology from researchers at Britain’s University of Nottingham finally reveals the enzyme responsible for making tomatoes soften so fast.

The enzyme is pectate lyase. Even more intriguingly, the researchers say that silencing the gene for that enzyme doesn’t appear to have an impact on other signs of tomato ripeness, like colour or taste.

“The potential for extended shelf life is apparent,” lead author of the paper, the University of Nottingham’s Graham Seymour, told Gizmodo. “The data we have indicates that the modifying softening in this way has no effect on taste metabolites, including sugars, acids or volatiles.”

But before we can really know just how long the tomato will last—and how it will taste both at the beginning and end of a longer shelf-life—we’ll need to wait for the researchers to do extended tastes into both flavor and lifespan. Until then, the best plan is simply to eat your tomatoes quickly, while the season lasts.

Image: See-ming Lee