One of the many nice things about tomatoes, at least in many varieties, is how they alert us to their ripeness.
Take, for example, the classic beefsteak tomato. When young and underripe, it’s green. Slowly, it will turn yellowish, then orange-ish, and then, finally, a nice deep red when fully ripe. This is extremely helpful! Many fruits and vegetables offer no such assistance. But for some scientists, the gradual changing of the colors just isn’t good enough.
Researchers at the University of the Basque Country have created a new technique for measuring the ripeness of a tomato down to a ridiculously granular level using an instrument called a portable Raman spectrometer. Spectrometers are a broad category of devices that, basically, examine from afar and split various qualities (mass, light reflection, momentum) into separate parts. The most common are optical spectrometers, which use prisms to split light into its component wavelengths, which can then be analyzed to learn more about the physical makeup of an object.
The new research uses a Raman spectrometer to check the ripeness of tomatoes. You might ask why we need to do this; a well-trained eye (or, really, any eye) can tell a ripe tomato from a not-ripe tomato. But the spectrometer technique allows for a totally new level of precision; it could, in time, be used to pick fruits at the best possible time, allowing them to ripen perfectly when they arrive at market. And the tool is non-invasive; no stabbing or sample-taking needed.
So yes, at the moment this tool seems pretty unnecessary, really. But for farmers embracing the power of data, it could conceivably help reduce food waste and rot during transit. Also tomatoes probably look pretty cool through a fancy science prism.