Firm and juicy, "back yard" variety tomatoes used to only be available in the summertime. But thanks to a new heirloom seed, one tomato can now be grown all year round. It's called the UglyRipe because of its deep ridges and imperfect appearance. But most people who taste it don't seem to care much what it looks like - they just love the way it tastes.
It's especially tasty compared to the typical winter tomato - which many people complain tastes like cardboard. So what's the fuss about?
First, a bit of background on where the tomatoes come from. During the summer tomatoes can be grown over vast regions of the country. But in the winter, the majority of tomatoes are grown in Florida, which produces over one billion pounds per year. That's a huge industry, and the stakes are high for growers.
The Florida Tomato Committee (FTC), which was established in 1955 under a Federal Marketing Order, regulates Florida's winter tomatoes. The Committee, which is made up of competing growers, sets standards pertaining to the appearance and quality of tomatoes that may be exported from Florida. They're supposed to promote tomatoes from Florida by only allowing the best to leave the state.
But for some reason, they seem to be far more interested in smoothness and roundness than taste - a quality that is of increasing interest to American tomato consumers.
The UglyRipe received an exemption from the FTC's grading system during its first three seasons. However, last year after three straight years of record sales for the UglyRipe, the FTC changed its view, saying the UglyRipe does not have the appropriate shape to meet its strict standards. So the UglyRipes were prohibited from being shipped from Florida last winter and spring. The growers of the fruit had already planted over 700 acres when the FTC reversed course. This resulted in a $2.8 million loss for the grower, Procacci Brothers of Philadelphia.
"Having this committee grade our tomatoes is like having your gym teacher grade you in English," says Joe Procacci of Procacci Brothers. "Consumers have complained to us for years that winter tomatoes taste like cardboard. Now we've invented a much better tasting product and our competitors are jealous. It's as simple as that."
But getting the rules changed is going to be anything but simple. The growers hope the public will help by telling officials at the United States Department of Agriculture that when it comes to winter tomatoes from Florida, consumers don't care about looks as much as they do about taste. And that the UglyRipe should no longer be America's forbidden fruit.
If you want to be able to buy UglyRipe tomatoes this winter, write to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service, Fruit and Vegetable Programs, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20250.
You can also help by contacting your Member of Congress to ask that the U.S.D.A. Marketing Order no longer applies to the UglyRipe.
Courtesy of ARA Content