The ‘Indigo Rose’ is a new, strangely-colored variety of tomato. The fruit is jet black on the outside and juicy purple-red on the inside. These colors might not sound very appealing, but black tomatoes are supposed to be very tasty, and most importantly, rich in antioxidants. Indigo Rose is a cross-breed between red and purple tomatoes, and is the latest ‘superfood’ to hit the market.
I have to admit, I never even knew that purple tomatoes exist. The modified fruit, bred by scientists in America, contain a special antioxidant called anthocyanin. Anthocyanin is responsible for fighting diseases like diabetes and obesity, and is the main pigment that lends the tomato its purple color. And when the purple tomatoes are mixed with the regular red ones, the resultant breed turns out black.
Black tomatoes were first bred by Professor Jim Myers at the University of Oregon, during a graduate study about the health benefits of tomatoes. When they discovered that purple tomatoes contained anthocyanin, which also provides color to blueberries, they decided to cross them with some wild red ones. Eventually, they came up with a black strain.
Photo: Plant World Seeds
“It is the first improved tomato variety in the world that has anthocyanins in its fruit,” said Prof. Myers. “It (the breeding) will lead to a better understanding on how the antioxidants express in tomatoes and may contribute to human health. They (anthocyanin) have many varied effects on human health, but while they are powerful antioxidants in the test tube, we don’t really know whether they have an antioxidant effect on the human body,” he added.
Sutton Seeds, a company based out of Devon County, has secured the rights to start selling the new plants for the first time in the UK. Assistant product manager Alfie Jackson said: “There are some dark colored tomatoes but Indigo Rose is the only real black tomato and is the darkest that has ever been bred. They are not as sweet as normal tomatoes and have a more savory flavor, and are nice roasted or eaten in salads.”
Photo via St Catherine’s Standard
So what makes the Indigo Rose so different from other dark tomato breeds? According to Myers, it’s all in the genes. “If you want a really, really purple tomato that can be as black as an eggplant, give Indigo Rose a try,” he said. “Other so-called purple and black tomatoes have the green flesh gene, which prevents normal chlorophyll breakdown.”
“People are passionate about their tomatoes,” he added, while commenting on the taste of the black variety. “The purple color draws their interest and because it’s extraordinary, people tend to expect impressive flavor as well. It does have a good balance of sugars and acids and tastes just like a tomato. Anthocyanins are essentially tasteless.”
During the growth process, these tomatoes start out green and turn black when exposed to sunlight. This is because the anthocyanins get produced in the fruit only when light touches the surface. “If you pick an Indigo Rose and expose the non-purple area to sunlight, it will turn purple in about a week,” said Myers.
But he cautioned planters against picking the fruit too soon – it needs to ripen fully for complete development of sugars and acids. In the State of Oregon, the average first ripe date is about 91 days after planting. These black tomatoes do give a pretty good yield, and Myers insists that they are not GMO (genetically modified organisms).
Now that the Indigo Rose has been successfully launched to consumer markets, Myers and his team are already thinking of their next big project. They intend to target cherry tomatoes as the next of several new versions in the Indigo-anthocyanin series. It will take three years to breed- these new tomatoes are also expected to be black and really high on flavor.