In Refrigerators, Tomatoes Lose Flavor at the Genetic Level
The tomato hitching a ride home in your grocery bag today is not the tomato it used to be. No matter if you bought plum, cherry or heirloom, if you wanted the tastiest tomato, you should have picked it yourself and eaten it immediately.
That’s because a tomato’s flavor — made up of sugars, acids and chemicals called volatiles — degrades as soon as it’s picked from the vine. There’s only one thing you can do now: Keep it out of the fridge.
Researchers at The University of Florida have found in a study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that when tomatoes are stored at the temperature kept in most refrigerators, irreversible genetic changes take place that erase some of their flavors forever.
佛罗里达大学(The University of Florida)的研究人员在周一发表于《美国国家科学院院刊》(Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)的一项研究中发现，番茄在大多数冰箱保持的温度下保存时，会发生不可逆转的基因变化，由此永远失去它们的一些味道。
Harry J. Klee, a professor of horticultural sciences who led the study, and his colleagues took two varieties of tomatoes — an heirloom and a more common modern variety — and stored them at 41 degrees Fahrenheit before letting them recover at room temperature (68 degrees Fahrenheit). When they looked at what happened inside the tomatoes in cold temperatures, Dr. Klee said the subtropical fruit went into shock, producing especially damaging changes after a week of storage. After they were allowed to warm up, even for a day, some genes in the tomatoes that created its flavor volatiles had turned off and stayed off.
领导这项研究的园艺学教授哈里·J·克利(Harry J. Klee)及其同事使用了两个品种的番茄——纯种番茄和一种更常见的现代品种。他们将这些番茄储存在41华氏度（约合5摄氏度）的温度下，之后再把它们转移到室温（68华氏度，约合20摄氏度）下。克利表示，对番茄在低温下的内部变化进行研究后，他们发现这种亚热带水果进入了休克状态，在低温储存一周后发生了损失极大的变化。恢复室温后——哪怕只有一天——番茄中一些产生其味道挥发物的基因便不再起作用，而且无法恢复。
It’s like a symphony: “Remove the violins and the woodwinds,” Dr. Klee wrote in an email. “You still have noise, but it’s not the same. Add back just the violins and it still isn’t right. You need that orchestra of 30 or more chemicals in the right balance to give you a good tomato.”
When you can get fresh tomatoes, Dr. Klee recommends storing them at room temperature, to preserve their flavor, and eating them within a week of bringing them home. If you see your grocer storing them at temperatures that are too cold, tell them not to, he says.
But this research may seem mostly academic. The average American consumes nearly 20 pounds of fresh tomatoes a year. And despite researchers, industries and farmers all striving to create the tastiest tomatoes, there are some things we can’t yet control.
After all, most of the tomatoes we eat out of season are plucked from their vines probably in Florida or Mexico, just as they started to ripen. They are sorted, sized, graded and packed into a box with other tomatoes, totaling 25 pounds. Then they stay in a humidity and temperature-controlled room (no less than 55 degrees Fahrenheit) and ingest ethylene, a gas to make them ripen, for two to four days before being transported on a temperature-controlled truck to a warehouse. There they are repackaged, re-sorted and shipped to your grocer. There, if demand is low or if there’s no room, they may be stored in a fridge, and by the time you get them, it’s been a week to ten days.
“It’s probably never going to equal the one that matured in your backyard over the 80 or 90 days that you grew it, but it beats stone soup” said Reggie Brown, a manager at Florida Tomato Committee, which produces up to half of America’s fresh tomatoes in the winter.
“它或许永远也无法媲美你在自家后院种的、经过八九十天自然成熟的番茄，但比石头汤强，”佛罗里达番茄委员会(Florida Tomato Committee)的负责人雷吉·布朗(Reggie Brown)说。冬季里，美国多达一半的新鲜番茄是由该委员会供应的。
In cold months, should you endure a tomatoless diet? There are alternatives, says Dan Barber, chef at Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York, who has received multiple James Beard Awards.
在寒冷的月份里，是不是该忍受没有番茄的饭菜呢？纽约蓝山餐厅(Blue Hill)及石谷仓蓝山餐厅(Blue Hill at Stone Barns)的大厨、多次获得詹姆斯·比尔德奖(James Beard Awards)的丹·巴伯(Dan Barber)说，还有其他选择。
“My advice for consumers is don’t eat a tomato in the winter,” he said. “Make a tomato jam in the summer and store and preserve it. Use dried tomatoes from the store. Make a tomato ketchup and can it — you can have it for the whole winter.”