Delicious tomatoes in the winter: more than just a fantasy?

Tomatoes

Supermarkets teem with produce year-round, with crops shipped from as far away as another hemisphere allowing apples, grapes, peppers, and other foods to be purchased during any season. Greenhouse-grown vegetables also make the seasons less of an issue. But some vegetables defy these methods and the quality difference between an in-season, locally-grown variety and the greenhouse or commercial product is stark. The tomato is one such product. Too fragile to travel long distances when ripe, a truly tasty tomato must be grown locally, in optimal outdoor conditions, and picked at the peak of freshness.

This quality difference may be on its way out the door, however. NPR's The Salt reports that "some tomatoes bred for the indoors are now just as flavorful as the ones grown outdoors in perfect summer conditions," according to scientists who specialize in hydroponic growing. Gene Giacomelli of the University of Arizona says, "Heirloom tomatoes [are] full of flavor and taste and color and nutritional value...But we can do that in the greenhouse with new varieties."

Greenhouse tomatoes often suffer the same problems as commercial field-grown tomatoes: they are bred for size and yield, picked unripe, gassed to turn red, and shipped to a distant destination, utterly lacking in flavor. But the current trend is that "tomatoes are being bred to thrive indoors, and the environmental conditions that make for a perfect outdoor tomato can now be replicated in greenhouses, too. That's becoming increasingly important now that global warming is making outdoor farming less predictable."

Due to more demand for quality, locally-grown produce, high-tech greenhouses are being constructed close to urban markets. NYC-based Gotham Greens, "grows hydroponic tomatoes year-round and sells them to local restaurants and supermarkets. And Backyard Farms, based in Maine, supplies its hydroponically grown crop to nearby markets in the Northeast." While nothing will likely replace the joy of eating a fresh, juicy tomato picked warm from your garden, it's good to know that perhaps local greenhouse varieties will soon be an adequate substitute in the winter months.

2 Comments

  • FuzzyChef  on  6/7/2014 at 11:41 PM

    Heck, I'd settle for a few halfway decent tomatoes *right now*. The whole California tomato crop has been wiped out by the drought. We're suffering here.

  • mfto  on  6/9/2014 at 5:44 AM

    We are fortunate in our area (D.C.) to have Kumatos available. Ours are grown in Canada. If you Google them you will learn how the tomatoes were developed in Europe and their production is tightly controlled. They are brown, not red and are small in size. But they taste like a tomato should taste and the small size is perfect for salads and sandwiches. We have never gotten a bad one and they keep well.

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