US approves genetically modified purple tomatoes, high in antioxidants, for growth

  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) last month signed off on approval to allow people in the US to purchase seeds and grow these tomatoes
  • Scientists developed a new colour for this vegetable using an antioxidant-rich pigment called anthocyanin, found in blackberries and blueberries
Doris Wai |

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Genetically-modified purple tomatoes were first developed in 2008, but they have only recently been approved for people to purchase seeds and grow. Photo: Shutterstock

Some gardeners grow tomatoes in a rainbow of colours including red, yellow, orange, green and even burgundy. But purple?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) last month signed off on approval that will soon allow people in the US to purchase seeds and grow genetically modified purple tomatoes.

Apparently, they are in high demand – and they have unique health benefits. On the Big Purple Tomato website, throngs of consumers said they would want the tomatoes and the seeds once they become available in 2023.

According to a report from Norfolk Plant Sciences, which operates the aforementioned tomato website, purple tomatoes are high in anthocyanin, which is an antioxidant-rich pigment found in blackberries and blueberries.

The plant research institute, based in Norfolk, England, said the tomatoes might also mark a turning point for genetically modified foods. Their engineered trait is meant to entice the shopper, instead of the farmer – especially people interested in the veggie’s potential health benefits.

The USDA’s decision follows a near 15-year wait for Cathie Martin, a professor at John Innes Centre who developed the anthocyanin-rich purple tomato in 2008. Martin engineered a precise genetic “on switch” derived from an edible flower, announced UK-based plant research company Sainsbury Laboratory in a September 9 release.

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“This is fantastic. I never thought I would see this day. We are now one step closer to my dream of sharing healthy purple tomatoes with the many people excited to eat them,” Martin wrote in the release.

Meanwhile, chef Daniela Gerson, whose website Waves in the Kitchen features a slew of tomato-inclusive recipes, said on her site that different pigments in tomatoes tended to produce different balances of sugars and acids.

For example, orange or yellow tomatoes would often taste milder and less acidic than red tomatoes, Gerson said.

Tribune News Service

What exactly is genetically modified food and are there any potential health risks?

Genetically modified food (GM food) is food that has been altered, usually by introducing gene material from another organism into a plant or animal. This is typically done to insert a desirable trait, such as larger fruit, resistance to certain diseases and longer shelf life.

There have been some concerns about health risks from consuming GM food, such as allergic reactions. But more recent studies have shown they do not pose a higher risk than traditional food. In addition, GM crops and food products undergo a strict evaluation process before they are sold to the public.

Some GM food might even be beneficial for our health. One such example is GM potato which produces less acrylamide – a compound that increases the risk for several types of cancer – than regular potatoes when cooked at high temperatures. As such, GM fried potatoes could be healthier than regular fried ones.

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