The research showed that some chemicals scientists previously thought were important weren’t and some they thought weren’t, were.

For example, cis-3-hexenal had long been considered to be important to tomato taste, mostly because it is so abundant in many tomatoes.

However, it has zero correlation to what people like, Klee said.

On the other hand, geranial, which was considered less important, correlated strongly with the highest-rated tomatoes and enhanced sweetness, the research showed.

“We really have to rethink the way we look at what is the chemistry of flavor,” Klee said.

Klee’s research has begun focusing on ways to transfer the chemicals important to taste into commercial tomato varieties that produce higher yields and have better disease resistance than heirlooms.

Klee said during the taste panels, administered by Charles Sims, chairman of the UF/IFAS food science and human nutrition department, several heirloom varieties received high scores.

These included the cherry tomatoes Cherry Roma and Maglia Rosa; the somewhat medium-sized Ailsa Craig and the large German Queen tomato. These heirlooms are excellent candidates for transfer of good flavor into commercial varieties, Klee said.

Some of the chemicals uncovered during the research also have potential applications outside of tomato breeding, said team member Linda Bartoshuk, Bushnell Professor in the UF College of Dentistry and director of human research at UF’s Center for Smell and Taste.

“Using statistical analysis, we found volatile chemicals that are contributing to sweet independent of sugar,” Bartoshuk said.

This could be important to the food industry, she said, as foods, such as fruit juices, can be made to taste sweeter without added sugar or artificial sweeteners. UF has applied for a patent on the chemicals.

Eating tomatoes can be part of a healthy lifestyle as they are high in vitamins C and A; are a good source of potassium; contain no cholesterol or fat; have few calories and sodium; and are high in the antioxidant lycopene.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, IFAS and Seminis Vegetable Seeds Inc.