Getting to the Bottom of Better-Tasting Tomato Juice

Tired of tomato juice that doesn’t actually taste like tomatoes? Take heart. University of Florida scientists may have found the essence behind what’s needed to produce tomato juice with genuine flavor.

Close-up of Garden Gem tomato fruit
‘Garden Gem’
Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS

According to a new UF/IFAS study, “essence” – which is usually extracted from a plant to add flavor or provide a scent – can be used to improve the taste of tomato juice. Using volatile capture, UF/IFAS researchers obtained essence from tomatoes.

As part of the study, researchers used ‘Garden Gem’ tomatoes – a UF/IFAS-bred variety – as the premium flavor tomato, said Paul Sarnoski, an Assistant Professor in the UF/IFAS Food Science and Human Nutrition Department and lead author of the study published in the journal Food Chemistry. ‘Roma’ was used as the control flavor. The idea was to test whether ‘Garden Gem’ retained more of its flavor after pasteurization. The ‘Garden Gem’ did, and was found as a suitable variety for essence production because of a high content of flavor volatiles, thus leading scientists to believe this system will provide better flavor when they test it on consumers.

Juices often need to be pasteurized before they are consumed, Sarnoski points out. During that process, the volatiles that give a juice flavor are lost because of the thermal processing required for pasteurization. That is part of the reason tomato juice does not quite taste like a fresh tomato.

The citrus industry already uses a similar technique to improve the taste of orange juice with flavor packs.

According to statistics from the Beverage Marketing Corp., beverage sales are expected to continue to increase from what was $131 billion in 2013 to an estimated $164 billion by 2018. Fruit juices are a driving force behind the numbers. Tomato-related processed products saw a 14% increase in sales in 2015 alone.

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