Discovery of the Real Tomato

We are delighted to announce a break-through in our understanding about the superior health benefits of specific tomato varieties.

Two types of lycopene can be found in tomato. All-trans-lycopene is commonly found in red (and other colour) tomatoes; and tetra-cis-lycopene (also known as prolycopene) is found in some heirloom tomatoes within the golden to orange and tangerine colour spectrum.

Note that not all tomatoes with the colour will contain tetra-cis-lycopene, as some will contain beta-carotene instead, which exhibits the same colour. Hence, it is necessary to have varieties chemically analysed to determine whether they contain tetra-cis-lycopene or whether the colour is exhibited from the beta-carotene in the tomato.

It has been known for some time that all-trans-lycopene is not well absorbed by the human body: hence the advice to eat cooked tomatoes so the body can better absorb the lycopene. The linear configuration of the all-trans-lycopene molecule seems to hinder its absorption through human intestinal walls and into the blood, according to Steven Schwartz from Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Centre.

However tetra-cis-lycopene is much better absorbed by the body — in fact two and a half times better! The structure of this lycopene molecule conforms more closely with the lycopene found circulating in human blood.

Eleven more heirloom tomato varieties that contain this highly beneficial anti-oxidant compound have been identified in the latest research by the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust, assisted by Plant and Food Research in New Zealand.

Realising that the cultivated common tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) was originally a golden-orange colour is a key piece of the puzzle. This was the colour of the first tomatoes found by the Spanish in Mexico in the early 1500s and taken back to Europe. When they arrived in Italy, they were named pomodoro: “golden fruit”.

It is our hypothesis that these golden tomatoes contained the tetra-cis form of lycopene and that they were highly beneficial for human health, as the tetra-cis-lycopene would have been easily absorbed through the intestinal walls into the bloodstream.

Later, when breeding of tomatoes began, they were bred purely for consumer appeal to be red. Unfortunately for 400 years there has been a lack of understanding about the consequences of that breeding approach.

The beneficial tetra-cis-lycopene is a recessive gene, and as systematic breeding took place, this recessive gene was replaced by the more dominant all-trans-lycopene gene.

In order to correct this mistake, we must go back to the past to re-discover the old original tomatoes that still contain the correct composition of beneficial compounds for human health. This is the focus of our research. We believe we have found the indicator that we have been searching for: tetra-cis lycopene. We believe that the varieties that still contain this compound have retained sufficient elements of their original genetic makeup to be the correct platform from which to take tomatoes into the future.

One of the great challenges for people at this time is the lack of understanding of the consequences of our actions. We have a vast amount of knowledge and technical skill, but we appear to lack the wisdom to know when to apply them and when not to. Tomato is one of the most widely eaten fruits in the world and as such could play a major role in reducing heart disease and cancer — but only if we eat the varieties with high levels of beneficial compounds. However the unrestrained commercial breeding of tomatoes has led to a disturbing reduction in their actual medicinal benefit.

We are now beginning the second phase of our tomato research, concentrating on growing those varieties that are high in tetra-cis-lycopene and distributing them throughout New Zealand communities.

Based on what we have learnt from years of research into apples and tomatoes — that commercially bred varieties contain reduced levels of beneficial compounds — we will not “breed” these orange tomatoes, cross them or in any other way artificially manipulate them.

However we will encourage members of our community to become part of this next phase of the research – to actively participate by growing these plants with love. This is the most important ingredient that we can share, along with our intention to be open to these plants further evolving, so that their fruits will contain the very best qualities for human health and wellbeing. In this way we wish to create through our positive intention, and to allow the consequences to freely manifest.

Moonglow tomatoes also make a terrific centrepiece!