You have probably eaten a huge number of tomatoes, or tomato based products in your life. Tomatoes can be found a huge range of foods, the most obvious being salads, pizza, and ketchup. However, you probably aren’t aware that much of the modern tomato is down to Israeli innovation.
While tomatoes are not Israeli in origin, Israeli scientists have developed them into a tasty, long-lasting and nutritious food. Israel produces hundreds of thousands of tonnes of tomatoes every year, but more important than the fruit are Israeli tomato seeds, which are in demand across the world.
It is often said that Israelis developed the cherry tomato. While this is not strictly true, Israeli scientists did make it into the fruit you know today. Professors Rabinowitch and Nachum Kedar of the Hebrew University set about transforming the cherry tomato from a tasteless and short-lived weed into a flavoursome fruit with a long shelf life. Thanks to them, the cherry tomato became mass-marketable in the Western world. They also developed cluster cherry tomatoes that can be picked like grapes, as picking single tomatoes is slower and more expensive.
Israeli has also done a great deal of work on developing tomatoes that are resistant to diseases. There is a constant battle to keep insects and pathogens away from crops without using chemical sprays. To that end, Professor Rabinowitch has been working on breeding tomatoes that contain genes that make them resistant to the most common diseases.
Rabinowitch is also concerned with helping the tomato survive climate change. Tomatoes cannot ripen from green to red at temperatures of above 30 degrees Celsius. If the ambient temperature is above 29 then the tomato flower will not develop properly or produce fruit. Because of this, there are Israeli scientists developing tomato seeds that can survive in extreme heat and increased levels of carbon dioxide and higher water salinity.
The chemical that makes tomatoes red is called lycopene, it is a carotenoid phytonutrient. Lycopene has many beneficial properties; it is good for the heart, for blood pressure, the prostate, bones and skin. That is why the company Lycored, which was founded in Beersheva in 1995, thrives producing lycopene-rich oil from extracts of locally grown tomatoes. The company is also sponsoring more research into tomatoes and their health benefits.
They are not the only Israeli company making money from tomato science. Frutarom Industries is another. They recently introduced PhytoflORAL, a tomato powder-derived ingredient that can be put into foods and drinks to aid with skin health and tone.
Some Israeli tomato seeds are literally worth their weight in gold and this is all thanks to the hard work being carried out in laboratories around the country. While the tomato may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Israel, you should definitely be aware that it is another of the many areas where Israeli scientists have greatly helped to improve the world. Next time you are tomato shopping, be sure to check if they are Israeli grown.