Friday, September 23, 2011

Tasti-Lee Tomato Hits the Florida Markets

New tomato coming to stores:

Tanya Arja FOX 13 News reporter

TAMPA - How to develop a "redder, juicier, sweeter tomato" has been 10 years in the making, and the man working on it thinks he has finally found a winner.

"Really, what I think makes it stand out, is its ability to produce good flavor, under a wide range of conditions," said Dr. Jay Scott, with the University of Florida Gulfcoast Research Center in Wimauma.

The tomato is called "Tasti-Lee." It has more Lycopene, an antioxidant, which makes it healthier. Plus, the color is more crimson than other tomatoes.

Inside the lab at the research center, scientists spend hours researching different tomato varieties. They pick leaves off the plants, freeze them, grind them up and then extract the DNA.

They check for genetic markers to see which plants they want to cross breed.

"The idea of getting a better tasting tomato, you go out and do a lot of work and make a lot of crosses. For instance, you might cross 20 different parent lines to make all kinds of hybrids," Scott explained.

Tasti-Lee is the cross breed of two plants. The tomato was ready four years ago, but it took time to find a seed company to produce it, farmers to harvest it and stores to sell it.

Publix now has exclusive rights to sell it in Florida, and the demand has been so high, supply is limited. But that should change in the next month, as the new harvest comes in.

Publix customer Peter Florence loves the tomato.

"Once you try it, you're just not going to go back to the others," Florence says.

He did his own taste test of the tomatoes in the store and says his food has never tasted better.

"It just has a more, old tomato-y flavor. Some of the tomatoes you buy, it's like...nothing."

Dr. Scott loves to hear that. He named the Tasti-Lee after his mother-in-law, who died five years ago.

"I know there are stories about mother-in-laws. But my mother-in-law was always very nice to me and was a tomato lover. And when she was dying, I told her I was going to name a tomato after her, so her name was Lee, so that's where the Lee came from," Scott explained.

He hopes his creation will bring more money to farmers and grocery stores. Right now, farmers in North Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina are growing the tomato.

Florida growers will start soon, as we come into tomato season here.

The Tasti-Lee's sell for about $1.99 to $2.49 a pound.

This news stories original link: New Tomato Coming to Stores

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