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The Taste of Watery Mush, Explained

When tomatoes are chilled — such as when they are put in the fridge after being bought — changes occur to their metabolomes and transcriptomes that affect their taste, the New York Times reports.

Researchers led by the University of Florida's Harry Klee report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week that when they stored two varieties of tomatoes at 5°C for eight days, they noted a significant loss of flavor volatiles, a loss that was still apparent after the fruit were brought back to room temperature for a day. At the same time, they reported reduced transcription of volatile synthesis enzymes and ripening-associated transcription factors like RIPENING INHIBITOR (RIN), NONRIPENING, and COLORLESS NONRIPENING during chilling. The researchers further found that a number of promoters, including RIN, saw increased methylation during chilling.

In an email to the Times, Klee likens the process to a symphony. "Remove the violins and the woodwinds," he says. "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."

The best tomatoes, the Times notes, will always be the ones you grew yourself, picked at the height of ripeness, and ate that day.