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Scientists say that putting tomatoes in the fridge could reduce some of their rich flavor. Researchers at the University of Florida explain why the loss of flavor happens at the molecular level. The answer calls into question the entire system of handling tomatoes from when they are picked and shipped to when they are purchased and brought home.
Researchers found that chilling tomatoes at temperatures below 12 degrees Celsius, or 53.6 degrees Fahrenheit, hampers the enzymes in the fruit. The study found that chilled tomatoes’ enzymes are less effective at combining volatile compounds, which are crucial for imparting the tomatoes’ flavor.
This leads to tomatoes that are relatively fresh and physically appealing and yet far less flavorful than their farm-picked peers.
The tomato’s taste is determined by the interactions of sugars, acids and a set of 15 to 20 volatile compounds, the study found.
Researchers found that cold storage does not significantly affect the tomatoes’ sugars and acids. Instead, all the flavor-zapping action happens with the fruits’ volatile compounds.
For their research, the team used tomatoes grown in a greenhouse on the University of Florida campus in Gainesville and divided the full, red ripe fruits into three groups.
In the first group, tomatoes were stored at 5 degrees Celsius, or 41 degrees Fahrenheit, with 92 percent relative humidity for seven days, then transferred to 20 degrees Celsius, or 68 degrees Fahrenheit, for a one-day recovery. In the second group, tomatoes were held at 5 degrees Celsius for eight days without recovery at ambient temperature.
In the third group, tomatoes were picked and tested one day later, without chilling.
Researchers found that seven days of cold exposure reduced the tomatoes’ levels of volatile compounds by up to 65 percent. A panel of 76 consumers also ranked their liking of the chilled and unchilled tomatoes. The taste-testers judged fruits that were chilled for seven days, then stored at 20 degrees Celsius, as much less flavorful than fruits that were picked a day earlier.