New Purple Tomato Gets Green Light From USDA

It promises to offer antioxidant properties on par with superfoods like blueberries.

September 23, 2022

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Photo by: Getty Images

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Tomatoes come in a lot of different shades and hues: red, sure, but also orange, yellow, green … Now a brand-new genetically modified purple tomato is one step closer to market. And it has been developed with the aim to be not just good looking, but also good for you.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has approved a new tomato from Norfolk Plant Sciences that has been modified to change its color, extend its shelf life and improve its nutritional quality.

“From a plant pest risk perspective, this plant may be safely grown and used in breeding in the United States,” the agency says in a news release dated September 7.

Norfolk Plant Sciences responded to the USDA’s approval by announcing that it would clear the way for the company to make the seeds for its “nutritionally enhanced high-anthrocyanin purple tomato” available for purchase by U.S. home growers starting in spring 2023. The tomatoes themselves are expected to be commercially available in 2023 as well.

Photo by: Photo courtesy of John Innes Centre

Photo courtesy of John Innes Centre

Cathie Martin, a professor at the John Innes Centre whose work involves using plant science to improve human diet and health, developed the anthocyanin rich purple tomato in 2008 by engineering a genetic “on switch,” derived from an edible flower. Norfolk Plant Sciences, which bills itself as the U.K.’s first GM crop company, was founded by Martin and Johnathan Jones, a professor at The Sainsbury Laboratory, to commercialize their research into plants with enhanced health-giving compounds.

Martin celebrated the news of the long-awaited USDA approval in a press statement. “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,” she said. “The bittersweet thing is that the tomatoes will be on sale in America and not the U.K. as well. But the plus side is that by focusing on home growers we will be consumer oriented, and we will be able to get feedback and interest needed to develop other products.”

While purple tomatoes already exist, this new purple tomato has been developed to “produce the highest levels of anthocyanins, which are antioxidant compounds with widely recognized health benefits,” Norfolk Plant Sciences says on its website. According to the company, the anthocyanins in the new tomatoes exist at similar levels to those in antioxidant superfoods like blueberries. In addition to their anti-inflammatory qualities, the tomatoes reduce waste due to their longer shelf life, make good on-the-go snacks, and also “taste great” and are “beautiful in special dishes.”

Norfolk Plant Sciences co-founder Jones called the USDA’s approval “a red-letter day for crop improvement.” Not a purple-letter day?

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