Purple "superfood" tomatoes could soon be an ingredient in your salad, BLT, or whatever other wacky medium you enjoy enjoying these fruits (botanically speaking). The new variety gets its funky coloration from boosted anthocyanin content – the pigment in blueberries that lands them in the "superfood" category.
The brainchild of Cathie Martin at the John Innes Centre in the UK, the “Big Purple Tomato” was built upon a body of research that found mice lived 30 percent longer on a diet supplemented with purple tomato, rich in anthocyanins.
“Dietary consumption of anthocyanins, a class of pigments produced by higher plants, has been associated with protection against a broad range of human diseases,” wrote the researchers in a paper published in Nature Biotechnology. “However, anthocyanin levels in the most commonly eaten fruits and vegetables may be inadequate to confer optimal benefits.”
To get past this, they engineered an anthocyanin-rich tomato which as a result enjoyed a purple makeover and increased its antioxidant capacity threefold.
"Tomatoes have about 30,000 genes, and naturally produces anthocyanins in [the] leaves and stem," said Nathan Pumplin from Big Purple Tomato to IFLScience. "[The purple tomato] was engineered with two extra genes from snapdragon, that turn on production of tomato's natural purple anthocyanins in fruits."
Being built on mouse models, we can’t expect to see the same results in humans gorging on purple toms – but with 10 times the volume of anthocyanins compared to existing, purple-skinned tomatoes likely carry extra benefits. The new tomato also differs in having purple flesh, too.
That groundbreaking fruit is now under the care of Norfolk Plant Sciences with the website Big Purple Tomato, who began the process of getting it to market in 2021. If successful, shoppers can expect both the fruits in stores and seeds available to purchase so you can grow your own at home.
The anthocyanin-stuffed tomatoes come with the added benefit of being environmentally friendly, boasting double the shelf life of your average tomato, potentially contributing towards a reduction in food waste.
The technology used to turn the tomato purple can be applied to any tomato variety. That means everything from your beefsteak to your baby plum could soon be available in nutrient-boosted purple.
Its rollout preparation has been sped along by a 2019 biotechnology regulation shake-up in the United States, meaning the process of approval is simpler for low-risk items.
"We are working with US regulatory agencies (USDA and FDA) to gain approval," continued Pumplin. "We are also exploring partnerships with companies in the tomato supply chain to bring our products to market, and continuing to breed the purple nutrients into more delicious tomato varieties."
Purple ketchup! Purple soup! Purple pizza sauce! The possibilities are endless.
[H/T: New Scientist]