The Garden Gem is one of the very best tasting tomatoes -- but you can't buy it

Garden Gem tomatoKlee Lab/University of FloridaBehold the Garden Gem, in all its glory.

I think we can agree that except for
maybe two weeks out of the year, tomatoes from the supermarket taste like nothing. They’re gorgeous and enticingly red — they lure you in with their looks — but they taste terrible.

They’re a fleshy disappointment.

Yet there is hope. Researchers at the University of Florida, led by horticulturalist Harry Klee, have developed the Garden Gem, which over 500 taste-testers deemed the tastiest tomato. But supermarkets in the US won’t sell it.

As Mark Schatzker writes for Slate, the tomato industry and supermarkets are not interested in taste. They want a tomato, above all, to be cheap.

Klee remembers attending an industry conference about flavour where one of California’s largest commercial tomato growers kicked off the proceedings by announcing that he had never lost a single sale because his tomatoes didn’t taste good. When new tomato varieties are developed, the field trials measure every imaginable trait: yield, fruit uniformity, appearance, shelf life, shippability, pounds per plant, even whether a tomato plucks clean or is left with tiny piece of stem attached. But not flavour.

Klee and his team developed the Garden Gem after analysing hundreds of tomatoes. Using traditional breeding techniques, they then combined their tastiest heirloom tomato with a tasteless but fast-growing cultivar. The medium-sized Gem resulted, and it didn’t lose any of the flavour of its heirloom parent. It even yields about 80% of its industrial counterparts, according to a story on the breed in Modern Farmer.

But when Klee offered his miracle tomato to commercial seed companies, Slate reported, they flatly refused. So the tastiest tomato cannot be found in supermarkets.

You can grow your own, though. The Garden Gem’s Facebook page explains that if you donate to the university’s Tomato Research Fund, they will send you some seeds. This online community of tomato growers reported what kinds of seeds they got when they donated and how the tomatoes stacked up.

“The taste was VERY good,” one grower wrote of Garden Gem. “Not sweet (I don’t like sweet except for the candy cherry sweet). It was not tart or acidic (I prefer a little tartness or bite). It was VERY tomatoey in a good way (if that makes sense).”

That sounds a whole lot better than anything sold in supermarkets today.

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