Tasty Tomatoes Are Elusive - 27 East

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Tasty Tomatoes Are Elusive

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A small size Kumato freshly sliced. The flavor was not nearly as rich and tasty as its carton mate whose color indicated peak flavor. ANDREW MESSINGER

A small size Kumato freshly sliced. The flavor was not nearly as rich and tasty as its carton mate whose color indicated peak flavor. ANDREW MESSINGER

This is the smaller size Kumato, and if the color is an indication this is at peak flavor.  Chef-inspired though? ANDREW MESSINGER

This is the smaller size Kumato, and if the color is an indication this is at peak flavor. Chef-inspired though? ANDREW MESSINGER

On the back of the box of larger Kumatos are these pictures depicting the various stages of ripeness of this tomato. All well and good but when you buy these at the market will they be mild/slightly green, peak and brownish or mild and slightly reddish?

On the back of the box of larger Kumatos are these pictures depicting the various stages of ripeness of this tomato. All well and good but when you buy these at the market will they be mild/slightly green, peak and brownish or mild and slightly reddish?

Autor

Hampton Gardener®

  • Publication: Residence
  • Published on: Feb 15, 2024
  • Columnist: Andrew Messinger

You may have noticed that for years I’ve been on a rant about tomatoes. All I’ve asked for is a nice red tomato with the same taste that I remember that came from the tomatoes raised on our family vegetable garden decades ago, but to date, that wish has gone unsatisfied.

I’ve complained to growers. I’ve complained to hybridizers and seed companies, and yet I’ve seen little to no success in the quest for a great-tasting tomato. Maybe it’s a memory fantasy and they never really tasted as good as I remember? Maybe my quest is too subjective. I can’t quell the fantasy though irrespective of its origin. The claims continue though and every year I’m tempted by the claims in catalogs and in webinars that “This is the greatest tasting tomato, ever.” And then, the disappointing reality.

It dawned on me though that the problem may be the age of those doing the breeding and development of the “new” varieties. Maybe they never tasted a great tomato that I remember from the 1950s and 1960s. Maybe they only get to taste greenhouse-grown “heirlooms” that by their nature of greenhouse culture and having never been touched by real, natural sunlight they’ve been deprived of the pleasure. Maybe their palates have never had a taste of that red fruit that livens up a grilled burger, adds color and rich flavor to a mixed salad or maybe they just never went out into the garden, picked a beefsteak or mortgage lifter or other “slicer” that can nearly make a meal. And a great one at that. Maybe they only eat salsa out of a jar?

Last December I did have a close call though, and it was with a supermarket-bought tomato, not one from a garden. It was very weird though. One tomato, just a bit larger than a golf ball, drew me down a rabbit hole that was at first tasty, then amazing.

Every week, as part of my grocery shopping routine I go through the produce section, and my last stop is the tomato section. My market always has a good selection of tomatoes from cherries up to large specimen heirlooms and all the choices in-between. But in mid-December my favorite size and type for winter use was missing — no Camparis. In fact, there were no cherry or grape tomatoes at all. In their place was a 1-pound plastic pack of a strange looking purple-brown fruit branded as a Kumato. A what?

Even the package was tempting. On the label showing the “Kumato” (a registered trademark) nicely sliced on a whole grain sandwich was the word tease “Chef Inspired” in both English and French. The label also said that the product was a “Simply Unique Brown Tomato” that was greenhouse grown in Mexico by a company based in Kingsville, Ontario, in Canada. My curiosity was now in overdrive, and since there were no other tomatoes of that size available I paid my $3.99 and the journey began.

The brown/purple/red skin of this tomato was firm, and that made it easy to slice on the cutting board. The first one had no chance of making it into the salad as half of the first one out of the box was quickly in my mouth. It was surprisingly and delightfully tasty for a winter tomato, and I began to hope against hope that finally, finally I’d found a tasty winter tomato. Ah, but did the rest of the tomatoes in the box taste as good?

The following week I went back to get another pound box. There were none. In fact there wasn’t a single cherry or golf ball-sized tomato in the store. But in the spot where the 1-pound boxes of Kumatos were the previous week were 2-inch-by-11-inch boxes of a similar-looking tomato with the same name, but these were at least double the size and the packaging reminded me of the winter tomatoes we used to get a decade ago that had little hint of color and not even a hint of taste. But how did the Kumato more than double in size in just a week? Time for some research and some eye opening.

It turns out that the Kumato is a brand of tomatoes developed by the Spanish grower Damien Flores in the 1970s for the agri-conglomerate Syngenta Seeds of Switzerland and took six years to breed. The goal was to produce a variety of tomato with improved taste, flavor and texture that would be edible in “all stages of ripeness.” It’s also the first brown tomato to be brought to the commercial market. Due to its origin location it also contains less water, making it firmer than similar sized tomatoes.

Next, I went online to see who was selling the seed for Kumato, and sure enough the internet was full of offers. The problem, however, is that this tomato is a hybrid, and seeds from the plants either won’t germinate or they won’t come true. In other words you can’t grow a Kumato from a Kumato, only a mere wannabe.

The trail of the Kumato gets even more interesting because Syngenta, who has the rights to the seed and does they hybrid crosses that produce it, strictly limits who can get the seed and how. My understanding is that they will only license one greenhouse operation in any given country to produce the plants and purchase the seeds. As a result the tomatoes are only available through certain grocers and “high-end retailers.”

Had my search for a great(er) tomato bore fruit? I fear not. As you may well know, the growing of tomatoes is ruled and tempered by a whole list of variables that can affect taste and quality. Kumato seems to be subject to these variables as well, despite its breeding. The first one out of the box tasted great, but as I went through the box of the golf ball-sized type the flavor began to fade noticeably.

The second box, this one a cellophane-covered cardboard box of five fruits in a larger sized Kumato, had the same colors and had the same name with the claim of a “Unique colour and flavour” but were a noticeable disappointment. Neither size showed up at my grocer again, but other varieties of 1-inch-sized tomatoes have now shown up, However, as it got colder and the skies cloudier, the cost went from a summer price of $2.99 a pound up to $6.99 a pound in early February. Back to the cheap, albeit tasteless grape tomatoes.

Please keep in mind that you cannot grow the Kumato in your home garden, and if you see the seed available it’s a scam or the seed is being sold by someone who doesn’t know that this tomato won’t come true from seed.

On the other hand there are hundreds and hundreds of other tomato opportunities for you to grow plenty of “new” varieties. Seeds should be started indoors in the first two weeks of March but much, much more on this beginning next week when I’ll tell you things about tomato growing that you never heard or falsely believed. It won’t be the usual “how to grow tomatoes” information but much, much more. Keep growing.

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