Sunday, December 27, 2015

What the heck is that? Kumato tomatoes

Try this experiment at home: drop a supermarket tomato off the counter and see if it gets damaged. 

I inadvertently performed this experiment on some plum tomatoes I was using for a red lentil dish. Nope, they emerged unscathed. 

We all value resilience, of course, but this is a little ridiculous – and an echo of the description in the book Tomatoland of Florida-grown supermarket tomatoes falling off the truck and remaining dent-free. (And I don't mean to imply that this is the worst attribute of supermarket tomatoes, grown in nutrient-free sand, doused in eye-popping amounts of pesticide and harvested under slavery-like conditions. But, yes, there are times when I still buy them.)

I went ahead and used these tomato-bots – I pumped up the tomato flavor with tomato paste and enjoyed the texture and slight sourness the supermarket tomatoes contributed to the dish. 

But using tomatoes in a cooked lentil dish is one thing; a fresh salad is another. Are there viable tomato options for a salad in December?

Enter the kumato.

Kumatoes have a striking appearance - their color is reminiscent of autumn leaves, encompassing various hues of green and brown in addition to their basic red.

Typically when you see a tomato with an exotic appearance, it's hanging out at the farmers' market.

You might have mistaken the kumato for an heirloom variety, had you first seen it in a farmers' market rather than encased in plastic. Kumatoes are actually cultivated (but not genetically modified) tomato variety. They were first bred in Spain; now their patent is held by a Swiss company, Syngenta. Kumatoes have a higher sugar content than most tomatoes (yum) balanced out with some tang, and thicker skins, which make them hardier than regular tomatoes. To help kumatoes stand out even more in shoppers' minds, Sunset, the North American representative for the kumato brand, trademarked the phrase "Simply Unique Brown Tomato" and put the catchphrase on the kumato packaging. 

The kumato tomatoes were delicious in a chopped garden salad, and earned a lot of "How did you manage to pull off a decent salad with winter tomatoes?" compliments. The green and brown hues of the tomatoes got lost in the normal exuberance of a salad. I give the kumato high grades for taste.

But of course it's hard to be unique - even if you're trademarked as such.

Sacher tomatoes, seen here at a farmer's market, are probably mistaken for heirlooms by most shoppers, simply because of their context. But like kumato tomatoes, sachers are carefully cultivated hybrids. Even their name is carefully selected: "Sacher" is intended to connote the chocolately deliciousness of a sacher torte.  As we saw with apple breeding, taste is just one part of the package - the most successful products are also hardy and memorable in the marketplace.

Kumato tomatoes can cope with their farmers' market rivals (and so far, I haven't seen sachers make the leap out of the farmers' market). In fact, the better-because-they're-odd farmers' market varieties help give kumato tomatoes their street cred. But the success of one supermarket "European brown gourmet tomato" can't help but spawn imitators. 

Watch out kumato - brunetta's right behind you.

1 comment:

  1. Brunetta is the Espresso variety of tomato sold by paramount seeds.