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Study: organic tomatoes small in size but nutrient rich
February 22nd, 2013
Brazilian and French researchers have found that although organic tomatoes may not stack up to conventional fruit in terms of size, they come out on top for nutritionally valuable compounds such as vitamin C and lycopene.
The study published in PLOS ONE makes the case for sacrificing quantity in favor of quality, healthy fruit.
“Until recently, the focus has been mainly on yield rather than on gustative and micronutritional quality of fresh plant products,” the study said.
“This might be all right for staple food, but, as far as fruits and vegetables are concerned, it may be argued that gustative and micronutritional quality matter more than energy supply.”
The research argues that organic production systems place more stress on fruit, causing them to produce more phytochemicals like those recorded in the study. Elements such as vitamin C, lycopene and other phenolic content serve as antibodies when plants face adversity.
To test the hypothesis that moderate stress makes for healthier fruit, the team collected organic and conventional tomatoes from Brazil’s Crato-Ceara´ State and tested the fruit through various development stages.
The study came to a positive conclusion in favor of organic tomatoes’ nutritional value.
“Our work clearly demonstrates that tomato fruits from organic farming have indeed a smaller size and mass than fruits from conventional growing systems, but also a substantially better quality in terms of concentrations in soluble solids and phytochemicals such as vitamin C and total phenolic compounds,” it said.
University of Florida tomato researcher Henry Klee explained to NPR that lower nutrients from conventional fruit might be explained by the design of modern varieties. He said current tomato varieties cannot keep up with nutrient distribution because plants are designed to pump out much more fruit.
Growth spurts caused by quick-release, nitrogen fertilizer may also be an explanation. Since organic planting focuses on soil enrichment and slow growth, the fruit has a longer chance to absorb nutrients.
“If I take two plants on conventional farms and reduce the fertilizer levels on one, I’ll get 40 percent smaller fruits with higher nutrient content,” Klee told NPR.