For many people, no joy is more unique than the one that comes from biting into a freshly grown tomato. Be it a tomato from your backyard, a tomato from a farmstand, or a tomato purchased on a farm before being sent to a grocery store, these fruits taste uniquely delicious. So why do garden tomatoes taste better than store-bought ones?
Garden tomatoes tend to taste better than store-bought tomatoes because they’re left longer to ripen and mature, making them taste juicer. Store-bought tomatoes tend to be a different variety than homegrown tomatoes, are not left to mature, and taste different as a result.
While all flavors are relatively subjective, it seems to be a nearly universal experience that homegrown vegetables, particularly tomatoes, taste better than store-bought ones. Read on to learn more about why garden tomatoes taste better, including the reasons why and the science behind tomato flavoring.
Mutations in Store-Bought Tomatoes
While some companies claim to sell fully organic and non-GMO foods, these claims are often difficult to follow through on. Almost all foods, particularly varieties of produce, have been modified to fit the needs of growers.
Farmers often try to produce the best kinds of plants by isolating the qualities of one plant and replicating them. Sometimes, this makes the plants easier to produce, more nutritious, or more enjoyable to consume.
Often, however, farmers aim to produce products that look appealing. This might seem somewhat strange to someone who doesn’t ever produce their own food, but think about your own shopping habits.
If you notice an apple is less shiny or a banana is extra small, are you likely to pick it, or will you choose another piece that looks nicer? Most people will choose the more visually appealing option. In fact, about 50% of produce is wasted every year as a result.
Unfortunately, because farmers are focused on making visually appealing produce, sometimes they sacrifice flavor to make them look nicer. In fact, a recent study suggests that the mutation that makes tomatoes look standardized at the grocery store impacts the protein that is responsible for sugar production. As a result, many store-bought tomatoes contain less natural sugar, making them taste less flavorful.
Of course, most home gardeners do not have the resources, nor the desire, to produce plants that are always the most visually appealing. We’ve all witnessed the homegrown vegetable that looks crazy but ends up tasting exactly the same. Since at-home growers don’t care about aesthetics over quality, most homegrown tomatoes don’t have this mutation, making them taste better.
Variety of Store Bought Tomatoes
Similar to the issue of tomato mutation, the actual type of tomato sold at grocery stores is often less flavorful than the type of tomato produced in a home garden. Different kinds of fruits often have multiple varieties within that “breed” of fruit. Think about apples, for example. Currently, over 7,500 different kinds of apples are grown worldwide. Within the United States, about 2,500 of these are grown.
Of these different varieties, different types are great for different things. For example, the following are known as “baking apples” because they are the variety best suited for baking:
- Cortland Apples
- Honey Gold Apples
- Fuji Apples
- Gala Apples
- Granny Smith Apples
Other apples, like Pink Ladies, Honeycrisps, and McIntoshes, are often considered the most flavorful and the best for snacking.
Tomatoes, similarly, have different varieties designed to be used for different purposes. While some tomatoes are great for pasta, others are great for sandwiches. The list of different tomato uses is endless, but what is essential to understand is that, like apples, different varieties of tomatoes taste slightly different. Perhaps shocking to some, there are over 10,000 varieties of tomatoes to choose from.
Currently, most tomatoes sold in grocery stores are designed to have a long shelf life and can be used for various purposes. After all, there’s no telling how long they’ll sit on the shelf in the shop before they’re purchased. In many cases, the flavors of these tomatoes are less diverse to make them more versatile.
Homegrown tomatoes, however, are most commonly eaten uncooked and aim to “pack a punch” in flavor. You’re more likely to consume a home-grown tomato quicker, too. If you think your garden tomatoes taste better than store-bought tomatoes, they might be the type you prefer.
Growing Technique of Store-Bought Tomatoes
If you’ve ever been to a farm or just seen images of a farm, it probably won’t come as a surprise to hear that the way in which tomatoes are grown on farms that sell to grocery stores is different from the way tomatoes are grown in your garden at home. At home, the process is normally fairly simple: plant the seeds, add water, make sure the plant gets sunlight, and, if necessary, add fertilizer to help the plants grow.
In farming operations, both large and small, the process is slightly different. Since farmers use the same soil year after year, the soil easily becomes depleted. Farmers might use certain treatments to supplement the soil’s nutrients or chemicals like pesticides to reduce weeds and insects from eating the plants. Eventually, because plants absorb their nutrients from the soil, some of these chemicals can impact the flavor of your foods.
The other major factor contributing to changes in flavor that result from growing practices is the point at which tomatoes are harvested. When it’s winter in the Northeast, local production of tomatoes reduces drastically, but the availability of tomatoes doesn’t. This is because tomatoes are shipped from warmer climates to that location. In doing so, however, this means that the tomatoes are picked earlier, often before they have reached full maturity.
If this occurs, tomatoes can lose some of the nutrients they need to help ensure a strong flavor. When tomatoes mature off-vine, they can’t produce the same amount of sugars, causing them to be less flavorful. This contributes to the flavor differences between homegrown tomatoes and the differences some people taste in tomato quality between seasons.
Age of Store-Bought Tomatoes
Another reason that store-bought tomatoes often don’t taste as good as garden tomatoes is the fact that store-bought tomatoes are older than garden tomatoes. While similar to the issue of when a tomato matures, the time between when a tomato is picked off the vine and when it is consumed has a significant impact on flavor. In fact, this could also explain why tomatoes from your home garden might taste better than those from a farmer’s market.
In produce generally, not just tomatoes, sugars tend to deplete fairly rapidly. If you take two blueberries off a bush and eat one immediately and one 12 hours later, the blueberry consumed later won’t taste as sweet as the first one. As time progresses, sugars slowly turn into starches, causing produce to lose the fierceness of its flavor.
According to one study by Perdue University, corn can lose 50% of its sugar within 12 hours of harvest. While this rate of depletion is not the same in every vegetable, the trend of sugar depletion still generally holds true.
When buying tomatoes from a store, even if they were produced locally, more time elapses because of the transportation, marketing, and retail processes that must occur for you to actually eat the fruit. When you harvest a tomato from your garden, almost no time occurs between harvest and consumption, meaning that a higher amount of sugar is present. This often makes homegrown tomatoes taste better than store-bought ones.
With so much variety existing between different plants and the nutrients different soils have available, no two tomatoes are guaranteed to taste exactly alike. However, it seems that no matter where they are grown, tomatoes from a garden tend to taste better than those bought at a store. This is largely due to the differences between the tomatoes grown in your garden and those sold at the store, including changes in genetic makeup, type, growing technique, and age.