KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
All right, it is time now for one of life's big questions. Do tomatoes belong in the refrigerator? Turns out, there is new scientific research to justify leaving them out on the counter. NPR's Dan Charles has more.
DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: There's a laboratory at the University of Florida in Gainesville where scientists are trying to understand the chemical makeup of a great-tasting tomato and a not-so-great-tasting supermarket tomato. Denise Tieman is a researcher there.
DENISE TIEMAN: There's a lot of things wrong with tomatoes right now. We're trying to fix them or at least figure out what's going wrong.
CHARLES: And one of the things they decided to figure out is what exactly happens when you put a tomato in the fridge, either in your kitchen or in the food industry's refrigerated trucks and storage rooms? They found that refrigerated tomatoes had lower levels of certain chemicals that easily vaporize, which Tieman says are really important.
TIEMAN: That's what gives tomato its distinctive aroma and flavor.
CHARLES: They also did taste tests, gave chilled and un-chilled tomatoes to dozens of people to evaluate.
TIEMAN: They could definitely tell the difference.
CHARLES: The un-chilled tomatoes got better ratings. The scientists also figured out why this was happening. Cold temperatures actually turned off specific genes that, in turn, cut down production of these flavor compounds. Tieman says maybe someday they'll figure out how to keep those genes turned on even when chilled so the tomato industry can have it both ways - refrigerate tomatoes to extend shelf life without losing flavor.
By the way, chilled tomatoes had less flavor but they were just as nutritious. The new findings appear in this week's issue of the "Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences." But they probably will not end the great tomato refrigeration debate.
DANIEL GRITZER: It's not so clear cut.
CHARLES: This is Daniel Gritzer, culinary director of SeriousEats.com, a food website. Two years ago, he did a series of blind taste tests with many different tomatoes in New York and California.
GRITZER: Sometimes I found the refrigerator is, in fact, your best bet.
CHARLES: That's especially true for a tomato that's already ripe and at peak flavor, he says. Let it sit out and it'll get worse. Gritzer wrote a long blog post and got a flood of reaction.
GRITZER: Some people wrote in to say, hey, you know, this is what I've always found. I'm so glad you wrote this. And then a lot of people push back saying you're insane, you don't know what you're talking about (laughter) so...
CHARLES: It's a thorny one, he says, because people feel very strongly about their tomatoes. Dan Charles, NPR News.
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