A tastier tomato

Meet The Makers: Jay Scott

Dr. Jay Scott spent more than 10 years developing a tastier tomato. Here, he inspects a cutting from a tomato plant in his quest to develop disease-resistant varieties.

Marisol Amador/UF/IFAS
Published: Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:51 p.m.

For more than 10 years, Jay Scott has worked to take a tomato from testing fields to Publix's produce section.

Scott, a professor at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences working out of the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, is the scientist behind Tasti-Lee tomatoes. The variety gives Florida's farmers a boost while providing consumers a healthy, tasty and affordable tomato.

Florida's $619 million tomato industry produces about half of the country's fresh tomatoes. During winter and spring, however, tomatoes imported from Mexico have begun to crowd out the local products.

But the flavorful, vibrant Tasti-Lee tomatoes Scott and IFAS cooked up give producers a chance to grow into the premium markets.

Scott, who has bred between 30 and 40 new tomato varieties in his 31 years of working at UF, crossed a heat-tolerant plant with a plant developed to produce ultra-firm tomatoes in 2002 to create “Fla. 8153.” Four years of testing showed the new variety also had surprisingly appealing and consistent flavor.

“Since Tasti-Lee, I've been working on other types of high-flavor tomatoes and have not yet come up with a better or even an equal one,” Scott says. “Breeding for flavor in tomatoes is not easy because the environment has such a profound effect.”

What's more, the new variety had the crimson gene, which produces up to 50 percent more lycopene than standard tomatoes. Lycopene, the red pigment in tomatoes, has been shown to reduce the risk of cervical and prostate cancers, as well as heart attacks.

“Since many like the flavor, they will eat more tomatoes and get more of the health benefits,” Scott says.

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