Supermarket tomatoes that taste like heirlooms are closer to reaching grocery aisles as a result of a discovery from the University of Florida.

A team of researchers, including members of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, have identified the chemicals inside heirloom tomatoes that make people enjoy their taste, and the discovery is expected to enable them to create better-tasting tomatoes for the commercial market.

Heirloom tomatoes are old varieties not bred for large-scale production and prized for their true tomato taste; something that many believe has been lost in commercial tomatoes.

The research is detailed online in the May 24 issue of Current Biology.

“A big problem with the modern, commercial tomato is that growers are not paid to produce a tomato that tastes good,” said Harry Klee, an eminent scholar and professor in the UF/IFAS horticultural sciences department. “They are paid purely on how many pounds of tomatoes they put into boxes.”

Florida is a top producer of fresh tomatoes, and the state’s crop for 2010-2011 was valued at $431 million.

To make the discovery, Klee and a team of researchers determined the chemical components of nearly 100 tomato varieties, including many heirlooms; calculated the levels present of each chemical identified; and then subjected the tomatoes to taste tests. The taste tests were comprised of 13 panels of 100 people who rated each tomato’s taste.

The researchers then statistically analyzed their data to ascertain the chemicals that were most abundant in tomatoes people liked the most and the least.