indigo rose tastes like a tomato

A few years ago, I reported on the new ‘Indigo Rose’ tomato being developed at OSU by vegetable development specialist, Dr. Jim Myers.  At the time, he was soliciting names for his purple tomatoes, which looked much purpler at the time in controlled conditions. Then unnamed, the tomato captivated visitors interested in the process of hybridization and Jim’s claims of a gorgeous aubergine color and some anecdotal and research-supported health claims. It’s now completing its first year on the market.

Unfortunately, the marketing for taste still hasn’t caught up to the marketing for color and health buzzword of the day. Back then, Jim didn’t have a good answer for the single pressing question asked by several people at the demo, and I’m sure thousands of people since then.  He still didn’t when my husband asked him last weekend at the Lane County Farmers Market:

What does it taste like?

His response: it tastes like a tomato.

He was absolutely right: it tastes like a tomato. There’s nothing particularly distinguished about the taste, but it’s not bad, either.  It just wasn’t bred for taste, and I think that’s a shame.

‘Indigo Rose’ doesn’t have the acidic zing and sweetness of the “black” varieties like ‘Black Krim’ or ‘Cherokee Purple,’ which turn a greenish brown color.  The ‘Indigo Rose’ isn’t as dull as a supermarket tomato, but a regular beefsteak in the heat of summer beats the pants off it for flavor.  The size is great — it is a bit bigger than your average large cherry tomato, but smaller than a plum.  I think they call them “salad tomatoes” in the biz.

Ah, it can’t be denied that you sure are pretty, ‘Indigo Rose’.  The ones I’ve seen in the farmers’ market (mine aren’t ready yet) are not purple but a mix of red and aubergine in color, like the ones depicted above.  The chemical reaction with anthocyanins that causes the purpling is cool; it’s rather like those sun prints one makes in childhood with photosynthetic paper.  If the tomato is shaded, it develops a purple color; if not, it develops red.  The tomato in front, for example, has little stripes that I imagine were caused by the calyx.  It looks great in a mixed tomato salad because of its unusual coloration.  Is this enough, though?

Have you grown or tasted this tomato?  A discussion has begun on my Facebook wall (you need to request to be “friends” but I don’t turn anyone down except that chick who was trying to link me to her porn site).  Folks mention the tough skin, which could be beneficial in a stuffed tomato recipe.  What do you think?

frankenstein farm day 2010

We visited mad scientists at work this weekend at the Lewis-Brown Research farm in Corvallis.  Inspired by last year’s trip, when I sampled new blackberry varieties, I thought I’d see what was now in development.  The cherries were in full, glorious fruit under the special experimental tents, marked by colorful balloons that mimic birds of prey.  We sampled about a dozen varieties, including some fantastic cultivars that deepen the flavor and firm up the texture of Raniers.

We sampled the wares at the National Clonal Germplasm Repository, or a field of blueberry specimens from all over the world.  OSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture work together to preserve the genetic material of all the blueberry cultivars they can find.  It’s one of 30 seed banks around the nation set up to preserve agricultural crops and other plants.

Although the high bush varieties were full and tall enough to hide my blueberry fan friend, the fruit was about 2-3 weeks late this year, and the scientists commented that they were ripening unevenly, with the extra early varieties coming in with the early varieties, and an unusual mix of ripe and unripe berries on the same branch.  As you might imagine, this would cause all kinds of problems for commercial growers.

At the bee station, we got to stick our hands into a box and let drones tickle us with their fuzzy, buzzy bodies.   Bee expert Dr. Ramesh Sagili, who was on site in a beekeeper suit talking about hive health, was hired by OSU last year. We also talked to some of the research team working on a new pest in the Willamette Valley, spotted drosophilia, which burrows into ripening fruit and can wipe out a crop in a manner of days.

We also talked to Dr. Jim Myers, the vegetable development specialist, who is now part of a research coalition that is working with different regions and farms to help improve organic farming practices.  Dr. Myers was soliciting names for his purple tomatoes, a lovely aubergine color that apparently have more anti-oxidants.

“But how do they taste,” cried one visitor.

“Like a tomato,” he replied.