Tourist Tip #209 / Tiger-striped Tomatoes

Startup Nation and farmers meet in the marketplace with exotic varieties of tomato hybrids.

Israel had been famed to the point of cliche for its orange exports until the combination of sensible water economy and Spanish agriculture put the kibosh on mass citrus production. Did that put the kibosh on Israeli farm exports? It did not. Enter high-tech and the engineered tomato.

Among the many varieties commonly available in Israeli markets are the classics – red and tangy, elongated or round or beefy, and a host of engineered tomatoes that usually come in large cherry size, though there are a few even larger ones out there.

Ranging from bright-red miniature plum tomatoes to tiger-striped to deep-brown "chocolate" tomatoes (don't be fooled by the name, they taste like tomatoes) – the main impetus behind their development was to develop lycopene-rich variants.

Lycopene, the red color in tomatoes and various other fruits, is believed to have anti-oxidant properties, though for what it's worth, the Mayo Clinic points out that there is no such thing as "lycopene deficiency."

Some of the dark-complected lycopene-rich tomatoes, which can reach all the way to black, are milder and sweeter in taste than the classic tomato, and most tend to be meaty and firm. Classic tomatoes tend to be tarter but the garishly colored fruits might be more appealing to children, for instance. They are also delicious served in classic salads with mozzarella, olive oil and a sprinkling of herbs, coarse salt and crushed pepper.

Market vendors will be tolerant of you taking one to taste before committing to a boxful, though it's good form to ask first, not just to help oneself. In fact they may urge you to, especially if you eye their merchandise and start to pass on. Again, in this writer's experience – if you like tomatoes – try one. You may find yourself hooked for life.

A final note: In contrast to conventional wisdom that cooking ruins all good properties in fruit, biochemists say that to maximize lycopene intake when eating tomatoes, eat them cooked, not raw. Now you know.

Central & Northern Arava Research and Development
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