Don’t like tomatoes? You probably haven’t tried the right one yet

Deanna Hurstfield didn’t know she liked tomatoes until she was in her twenties.

“I thought that they were messy,” said Hurstfield. “To me, they didn’t have a lot of flavour.”

That changed when a friend introduced her to a fresh garden tomato served up with a bit of salt and pepper.

“It was like, ‘oh, now I understand why people like tomatoes,'” she said.

From that early dislike of tomatoes, Hurstfield has made a near-complete turnaround. She now organizes the annual Tomato Festival at the Kamloops Farmers Market, about 250 kilometres northeast of Vancouver. 

WATCH | Some top tips for planting tomatoes: 

Get gardening with these top tips for planting tomatoes

13 days ago

Duration 2:03

For many, spring signals the time of year to start working on your backyard garden. CBC’s Jenifer Norwell caught up with the Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc Food Sovereignty Team to learn a little bit more about how to properly prepare and plant tomatoes.

At the festival, growers enter tomatoes in a competition for the People’s Choice Award, where people get the chance to pick their favourite out of the vast diversity now available.

The widening tomato selection at the local farmers market is part of a much broader movement, in which producers all over the world are responding to consumer demand for more options beyond the standard red grocery store tomato.

Tomatoes grow outside in rows in a farm
Tomatoes can be grown outside in farms and gardens in many parts of Canada. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

With about 19,000 different tomato types listed by the group, Local Food Connect, there’s no shortage of choice. 

The tomato is the most popular veggie in the world, according to a 2020 report by Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition. In 2017, about 182 million tonnes of tomatoes were grown globally, representing 17 per cent of all the veggies. The next most popular vegetable, onions, came in at nine per cent.

While technically a fruit, the tomato is often considered a vegetable because of the ways it’s used in cooking. 

One of the groups working to develop new varieties of tomatoes is the Ontario-based Vineland Research and Innovation Centre. The non-profit also looks into the history and trends of tomato growing in Canada. 

According to Travis Banks, director of crop enhancement and adaptation at Vineland, commercial growers historically focused on produce that shipped well. Tomato varieties were selected for their ability to last longer in a truck and on the shelf.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t realize at the time that some of those characteristics were to the detriment of flavour,” said Banks.

Professional tomato tasters

Vineland has created 34 tomato varieties through its research and development. The group’s sensory panel is a big part of that work.

The panel includes so-called super tasters, often foodies with the ability to pick out distinct flavours.

Food For Thought: Tastier Tomato

5 years ago

Duration 1:47

Tomatoes have been selected for size and speed of growth. In that process though, they have lost their taste. This scientist has devoted his work to creating the “perfect tomato”, full of flavour.

The sensory panel identifies whether a tomato is sweet, acidic, bitter, smoky or has umami notes, but they are not asked whether they like the tomato or not – that’s left to consumers.

“Not everybody wants the same thing,” said Amy Bowen, Vineland’s director of consumer, sensory and market insights.

‘Bask in their beauty’

Back in Kamloops, B.C., chef and avid home gardener Jarrod Omichinski gets excited about the growing tomato selection.

“I just look at how many different shapes and colours and sizes and I just really bask in their beauty,” said Omichinski.

Smiling man in a black shirt holding a white plate with a stuffed tomato on it in an industrial kitchen
Duck Duck Pork owner and chef Jarrod Omichinski loves working with tomatoes in his dishes. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

He said he’s grown almost every colour of tomato you can think of, including white tomatoes that have more of a melon-like taste and green ones with bright acidic flavours.

‘Never satisfied’ 

All of the work done by researchers at places like Vineland is resulting in more choice for gardeners like Omichinski and shoppers — and that trend isn’t slowing down.

Bowen says we’ve moved from a world with just a handful of watery red tomatoes to an array of colours at the grocery store.

Tomatoes on a counter near a container of basil
Tomatoes will continue to ripen after they are picked off the vine. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

“[Consumers] know the tomato is diverse. They can use it in so many different ways, so they’re not satisfied with a one tomato fits all,” she said.

Bowen’s own search for different tomatoes to sample will continue.

“I’m always looking for what’s out there,” she said. “I’m never satisfied with just one.”


Posted in CBC