When Harry Klee harvests a batch of heirlooms in his greenhouse in Gainesville, Fla., he sends them to a lab, where about a hundred testers rate the fruit on many aspects — from flavor to texture to the intensity of their sensation. Gardening is only a part of Klee’s profession. A molecular biologist and horticulturalist at the University of Florida, Klee is merging plant genetics and the science of taste to build a better tomato.
What’s wrong with the tomatoes we eat now? A few things, Klee explains, giving a rundown of today’s heirloom status quo. Number one is that growers are not paid to produce great-tasting fruit. They are paid for yield, for how many pounds of tomatoes “they put in boxes,” he says, rather than for how savory their product is. For years, tomato breeders focused exclusively on yield, creating varieties that deliver huge amounts of fruit in a very short time. But plants just can’t produce enough chemicals to make all those tomatoes tasty. Read Full Story