Embark on a flavorful adventure as we delve into the world of tomatoes and unravel the taste and nutritional differences between field and greenhouse varieties.
Are field tomatoes better than greenhouse tomatoes?
While field tomatoes are often considered to have a better flavor and higher nutritional value, growing conditions, and tomato variety also play a significant role.
This article explores the factors that shape these scrumptious fruits and provides insights on their cultivation methods.
From sunlight exposure to ripeness at harvest, we’ll uncover the secrets that make tomatoes a tantalizing treat in countless dishes across the globe.
What is a field tomato?
“Field tomatoes” simply refer to any tomatoes that are grown outside in open agricultural fields or in the garden where they are exposed to natural environmental conditions.
They can be volunteer tomatoes and any varieties, including the round, roma, beefsteak varieties, and can be grown with or without stakes.
Unlike greenhouse or hothouse tomatoes, field tomatoes are grown without the protection of controlled environments and so are often damaged by the weather, bugs, machinery, or disease.
Because of this, field tomatoes are often grown to be processed into canned tomato products.
Greenhouse tomatoes, on the other hand, are cultivated within structures, such as greenhouses or high tunnels, which offer protection from external factors and allow for precise control over their growing conditions in terms of temperature, humidity, light, and irrigation. This not only results in more uniform and consistent tomato production but also helps to reduce the impact of pests and diseases.
The hydroponic system is also used in which the plants are grown in nutrient-rich water solutions rather than soil. This method allows for better nutrient management and reduced water usage, contributing to a higher quality and more sustainable tomato crop.
All these controlled methods allow for a year-round of tomatoes and a steady supply regardless of the season.
According to the Canadian Food Focus, greenhouse tomatoes produce 10 to 20 times more fruits per square foot than field tomatoes.
Factors affecting the taste and nutrients of tomatoes
The taste and nutrients of a tomato are significantly influenced by its growing conditions. Factors such as soil quality, temperature, sunlight, and water availability can impact the development of flavor compounds within the fruit.
The intensity, duration, and quality of light all affect the content of phytonutrients such as vitamin C, carotenoids, and phenols in tomatoes. Several studies have found the increase of antioxidants in tomatoes increases with light intensity (Amiot et al. 2007).
The amount and intensity of light during the growing season also affect the content of ascorbic acid in tomatoes because it is made from sugars produced during photosynthesis.
Field tomatoes are more exposed to the natural elements, which can result in more variation in taste due to differences in soil type, weather, and other environmental factors.
In contrast, greenhouse tomatoes are grown in a controlled environment, providing more consistent growing conditions that can lead to a more uniform taste.
Ripeness at harvest
The stage of ripeness at which a tomato is harvested plays a crucial role in determining its flavor and nutrients.
Tomatoes that are allowed to ripen on the vine tend to develop a deeper, more complex flavor with a higher level of ascorbic acid than those picked while green or in the breaker stage. This is because the fruit has more time to accumulate sugar, acids, and other flavor compounds during photosynthesis.
Also, tomatoes that mature on the vine typically possess a greater concentration of phytonutrients compared to fruit ripened off the plant.
Variety-specific taste profiles
Different tomato varieties have distinct taste profiles due to differences in their genetic makeup.
Some varieties are bred for their sweet flavor, while others may have a more pronounced acidity or a unique balance of sweetness and acidity. The choice of variety can significantly impact the taste of both field and greenhouse tomatoes.
Sweetness, acidity, and umami
The taste of a tomato can be characterized by three primary flavor components: sweetness, acidity, and umami.
Sweetness in tomatoes comes from sugars like glucose and fructose, while the acidity is derived from organic acids such as citric acid, ascorbic acid and malic acid.
Umami is a savory taste that is contributed by compounds like glutamate.
The balance of these flavors depends on factors such as growing conditions, ripeness, and the specific tomato variety.
Do field tomatoes taste better?
Studies have shown that field tomatoes do taste better than greenhouse tomatoes.
A study by Neerja et al. (2014) compared the taste and quality of tomatoes grown in open fields and in greenhouses. It was found that tomatoes grown in open fields resulted in better flavor (in terms of higher acidity and sugar content) and higher nutritional value in terms of vitamin C and lycopene content. But, tomatoes grown under greenhouse conditions resulted in a higher yield (2.6 kg of tomatoes per plant) compared to those grown in open field conditions (1.5 kg of tomatoes per plant).
Several taste tests and expert opinions also in a study by Kader et al. (1977), panelists suggest that field tomatoes often have a more pronounced flavor, with a better balance of sweetness and acidity, compared to greenhouse tomatoes.
Nutrient of field tomatoes vs greenhouse tomatoes
The nutritional levels of a tomato does depend on the growing conditions such as light and temperature and also the tomato variety, rather than the method of cultivation.
A study by Dorais et al (2008) compared the nutrient content of greenhouse-grown tomatoes with those grown in the open field. The study found that greenhouse tomatoes had significantly higher levels of vitamin C, total soluble solids, and total antioxidant capacity compared to field-grown tomatoes.
However, the field tomatoes had higher levels of lycopene and beta-carotene. Lycopene has been linked to several health benefits, including reducing the risk of certain types of cancer and promoting heart health.
There can be differences in the nutrient content of field and greenhouse tomatoes. However, it’s essential to recognize that factors such as tomato variety, growing conditions, and soil quality can significantly impact the nutritional value of tomatoes.
It is challenging to make a definitive statement about the superiority of one type of tomato over the other.
Both field and greenhouse tomatoes can provide valuable nutrients and antioxidants to support a healthy diet. While some studies have found differences in nutrient content between the two, it’s essential to consider the many factors that can influence these results.
Ultimately, incorporating a variety of tomatoes into your diet, regardless of their growing method, can contribute to a well-rounded and nutritious diet.
Dorais, A. L., Ehret, M., & Ehret, D. L. (2008). Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) health components: from the seed to the consumer. Phytochemistry Reviews, 7(2), 231-250.
Neerja, N., Manish, K., Abhishek, W. & Surabhi, S. (2014). Tomato Fruit Quality under Protected Environment and Open Field Conditions. International Journal of Bio-resource and Stress Management, vol, 5 (3), pp.422-426.
Kader, A. A., Stevens, M. A., Albright-Holton, M., & Morris, L. L. (1977). Amino acid composition and flavor of fresh market tomatoes as influenced by fruit ripeness when harvested. Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science, 102(6), 724-728.
Good – Yeshiwas, Y. & Tolessa, K. (2018). Postharvest quality of tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) varieties grown under greenhouse and open field conditions. International Journal of Biotechnology and Molecular Biology Research, vol. 9 (1), pp.1-6.