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Will Florida soon process tomato juice?

09/11/2020 - François-Xavier Branthôme
New University of Florida tomato could shift state's farming trends

New breeds of Florida-grown tomatoes, particularly the Garden Gem bred by the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, pack a tasty punch for tomato juice, new research from the university shows. This new data could shift Florida's tomato-growing trends. 

The biggest market for Florida tomatoes, by and large, remains food services such as restaurants and grocery stores, which buy whole, fresh tomatoes from farms across the state. Florida's tomatoes aren't generally harvested for processed products, such as tomato juices, pastes and sauces. Such products require a far more rich and flavorful tomato than the varieties that most commonly thrive in Florida. 
For years, researchers have toiled to help breeders develop the genetic traits to give tomatoes bred by the university more flavor.

For a newly published study, scientists used six of the university's varieties to process into six tomato juices. In three testing panels comprising a total of 255 consumers, researchers asked the testers at the University of Florida Sensory Lab how each juice tasted and smelled. The verdict for all: two thumbs-up. While other varieties fared well in the tests, panelists consistently rated juice made from the Garden Gem tomatoes significantly higher for aroma, flavor and texture.
I think this study shows that Florida tomatoes are viable for making processed-tomato products,” said Paul Sarnoski, an associate professor of food science and human nutrition at the university. “Our juice exhibited better flavor — with more fresh and fruity attributes closer to that of a fresh-picked tomato.

Sarnoski, lead author of the new paper that summarizes the research, said better-tasting tomatoes lead to improved tomato juices. It behooves growers to produce tomatoes that go beyond the bland flavors of the past and deliver tasty products to consumers.
Sam Hutton, an associate professor of horticultural sciences at UF and tomato breeder at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, believes the new data on tomato juice will help his efforts to develop tastier tomatoes for farmers to grow.
This research is interesting to me because the chemistry of better-tasting juice is very similar to the chemistry of better-tasting tomatoes,” Hutton said. “So, these results help to direct my program’s efforts to develop varieties with improved flavor, especially ones with more of these fruity attributes. Such varieties may then be more preferred by consumers and could help boost demand and consumption of Florida tomatoes.” 

Now that researchers know Florida-grown tomatoes are good for tomato juice, scientists want to know whether Florida tomatoes can be marketed at a cost-effective price. Once they clear those hurdles, scientists hope to help producers stock grocery stores with Florida-grown tomato products. Generally, processed tomatoes are sold for less money than fresh-market ones and need to be made into a juice, sauce, paste and so forth, Sarnoski said.

To that end, scientists — working with farmers — need to find out whether they can produce tomatoes at a cost that’s competitive with other regions. They also need to know whether Florida has the food-processing infrastructure in place. If not, does the industry need to adapt existing infrastructure to produce processed-tomato products such as pastes and juices?
I think these two questions relating to costs need to be answered before juice from Florida-processed tomato products end up in a supermarket,” Sarnoski said. “Right now, in Florida, most of the juice processing is focused toward citrus. Perhaps some of that infrastructure can be modified to make tomato juice.”





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