Tomato is not natural, it is a treasure created by human ingenuity

  • By:karen-millen



"Tomato is a natural treasure".What can be more natural than a good tomato?It is true that it is a culinary jewel, but we do not owe it to nature, but to a hard legion of farmers and improvers who have created it throughout a long and complex history, which covers from the first American agricultural cultures toCurrent improvers.It is his work that has accumulated this diverse and living wealth.In nature there are no large and juicy tomatoes, nor is there wheat with which to make spongy bread or appetizing corn.

We can venture that the beginning of the history of cultivated tomato was placed in the region that covers northern Peru and southern Ecuador, specifically in the strip between the skirt of the Andes and the Amazon jungle.This area, called mountain eyebrow, coincides with the busy, between 3.000 and 2.000 a.C., by the May-Chinchipe agricultural culture.It was probably there that the domestication of tomato began.

The living beings that inhabit our houses and our farms are not found in nature;In the forests there are no caniches, there are wolves, and in the ancient valleys there was no corn, there were theosinte, a practically unstimmar herb.For centuries, our ancestors were selecting, from among the plants and wild animals, those they preferred and thus, little by little, they were humanizing them, they were bringing them closer to the human scope.This process is called domestication because the Latin word for home is "domus", so that tame would be to approach the house.

En laCeja de Montaña se encuentra en la actualidad la mayor diversidad genética y agronómica de tomates cultivados del mundo, y es muy probable que esa diversidad sea un vestigio del largo proceso de domesticación que allí ocurrió.In agronomy, genetic diversity is also useful, it is the starting material with which the new varieties are built.Therefore, conserving this diversity is essential for the future of humanity, it depends on the creation of the varieties that will allow us to face the challenges to which we face both today and tomorrow.

Genetics has allowed us to know what genetic modifications the first farmers selected.One of the first was the “FAS” mutation;These mutants produce larger and somewhat deformed fruits.Genes related to the shape and size of the fruit were some of the most affected by domestication.Our current knowledge of these modified genes is such that we can recreate domestication, but instead of needing the thousands of years that were originally required, modern genetic engineering techniques allow us to pass in a few years and in a controlled way from aModesta wild plant to an almost commercial variety, the equivalent of moving from a wolf to a chihuahua.

After the arrival of the Spaniards in America there was a great exchange of crops between America and Eurasia.From the old to the New World they took, for example, rice and wheat and from America to Europe they brought, among other crops: corn, potatoes, chocolate and tomato. Estas largas migraciones debieron de implicar una pérdida de diversidad y, además, no fueron las primeras, el tomate antes de ser domesticado ya había realizado un viaje de ida y vuelta, desde la costa ecuatoriana a las selvas mexicanas y desde allí, de vuelta, a Ecuador, aunque esta vez no a la costa, sino a laCeja de Montaña.

El tomate no es natural, es un tesoro creado por el ingenio humano

At the beginning of the 16th century, the tomato was already exhibited in different European botanical gardens, but we should not think that its adoption was immediate.At that time, vegetables were reputed to be unhealthy and that sambenito was also hung.His cultivation was relegated to the humblest classes in Spain and Italy.The stories of the poor do not usually be collected in the official chronicles with as much diligence as those of the rich, but we know that tomato was consumed because, among other things, the theatrical authors of the Golden Age assumed that their audience knew it.For example, in Entremés de la Mariquita, by Agustín Moreto (1676), it reads:

How do you have nothing left?Oh a pot,

With sausage, with baca, and with ram,

With Tozino, who rejoices the Gaznates,

With your spicy tomato sauce,

already chopped your venogenas,

With their garvanzos, and their vegetables,

And for you to finish some fritters.

At present, tomato is the most popular horticultural, we find it in numerous sauces, salads and soups, but in most of the planet its mass consumption is very recent;Only from the second half of the nineteenth century it became relevant.

However, despite his bad reputation, which lasted for centuries, and the little genetic diversity that the Atlantic crossed, the Spanish and Italian farmers managed to generate a large collection of new varieties adapted to their local tastes and needs and needs. Por ejemplo, en Italia se crearon muchas variedades de fruto pequeño y en Baleares,Cataluña y Valencia se popularizaron variedades mutantes en genes de maduración capaces de aguantar sin pudrirse durante meses y que todavía hoy se utilizan en algunos lugares para preparar el pan con tomate.

The work of creating new varieties began to professionalize at the end of the 18th century when the first seed houses were founded.These companies were responsible for providing proven and uniform quality to their customers.Something later, in the XIX, these professionals began to make systematic crossings to create new varieties.An example of them is the traditional San Marzano variety, one of the fundamentals in the Italian industrial construction revolution of the late nineteenth century.San Marzano, the "official" variety of the Pizza Margarita, was created deliberately two previous varieties Re Umberto and Fiaschetto.

The twentieth century began with the rediscovery of Mendelian laws and the improvers immediately understood the relevance of this knowledge for their work.From that moment on, the varieties began to.This allowed to raise improvement programs in which some of these pieces were deliberately replaced.Since then, the improvement has continued to improve its tools little by little, making them more and more precise.We are the heirs of a tradition of genetic modification that began with the first farmers and that went through these incipient seed houses of the 18th, we are not talking only about transgenics, but, for example, of incorporation of wild species in improvement programs, molecular markers, fabric crops or sequencing or massive technologies.Como ya hemos comentado, con estas herramientas modernas podemos incluso recrear el proceso de domesticación a una velocidad y con una precisión miles de veces mayor que la de nuestros colegas de hace miles de años.A practical result of this improvement of improvement is its contribution to the increase in food and, therefore, to the reduction of hunger.Although, since the sixties, the surface used to produce cereals has remained constant, the productions have folded.This has allowed hunger to be reduced although the world population has multiplied by one and a half.The effort invested in the generation of increasingly productive and efficient varieties is continuous.

The industry is usually accused of having ended the taste of the mythical traditional tomato, but this loss of flavor is due, above all, to the consumer's demand to have cheap tomatoes throughout the year.The tomato was always a season culture and had it outside it demanded forced crops, more dilated post -harvest and long transport.All this is not new, more than a hundred years ago, at the beginning of the 20th century, improvers and consumers already complained about the lack of flavor, they were already fully aware of the problem;The new thing is that current improvers are getting over these obstacles getting affordable tomatoes with a better flavor even out of season.

Current tomatoes are a human creation, the result of a long history that covers numerous agricultural cultures and traditions, and thanks to it it has been gaining a flourishing agricultural diversity fed by the cultural diversity of people who have appreciated, cultivated and consumed.Creamos nuestros tomates humanizándolos y esta no es la excepción, sino la regla.All crops were domesticated, they were transferred from some regions to others and modified to adapt them to our diet and our different cultures.Its history is our story and this is not surprising since they are our creation, we have changed them and have changed us.When preparing a salad or savoring a salmorejo we are participating in this long shared story.

Unfortunately, this is a story often forgotten and who forgets its roots not only loses an important part of its identity, but risks making wrong decisions about how to face its future.The Professional's profession, at present, despite its relevance rarely appears in the media, remains invisible.Moreover, when there has been talk about the creation of new varieties, it has been mainly in long absurd debates that have resulted in the use of some of the new tools that could have been added to the workshops of the Improvers.It is not surprising that some of these professionals have told us that they prefer that society continue to ignore them.But we believe that it is not only fair to recognize their work, but it is vital for our future to support them so that we can continue building a world in which we have to feed almost 8.000 million people in the middle of a climate change to which we must add a defendant scarcity of good quality cultivable land.The story is very far from having finished and the choice to face these problems using the best available tools or tie us a hand to our backs is ours.

José Blanca y JoaquínCañizares son profesores de genética en la Universidad Politécnica de Valencia.

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Tomato is not natural, it is a treasure created by human ingenuity
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