A group of researchers at Izmir Institute of Technology in Turkey have begun experimenting with cross-breeding tomato varieties for an entirely new purpose: to goose the concentration of healthy vitamins and antioxidants in the fruits. Tomatoes are rich not just in flavor but also in super-healthy stuff, like vitamin C and lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. We’re used to breeding cultivated tomatoes (meaning, basically, supermarket tomatoes) for shape, size, color, and hardiness, but these researchers are actually trying to increase the levels of beneficial chemicals.
How’d they do it? Well, wild tomatoes tend to have a much higher concentration of these vitamins and antioxidants than cultivated tomatoes. So the team took three varieties of wild tomato, all native to Peru, and cross-bred them with cultivated tomatoes. The progeny of this union turned out to have much higher concentrations of those healthful chemicals than the cultivated tomatoes — one variety even boasted a full two times as much antioxidants as the cultivated tomato.
The researchers are hopeful that this study could lead to a whole new kind of tomato breeding, one that aims not just for the ease of shipping and sale but also for the health that, until now, could only be found in a wild tomato. The study appears in the journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science.
Update: It’s been brought to our attention that this Turkish study isn’t the first to experiment with breeding tomatoes for boosted antioxidant content; Oregon State University bred this gorgeous purple tomato for the same reasons in 2012. Apologies for the mistake.