Science Into Practice - Probing tomato health benefits

Tomatoes contain a number of nutrients with antioxidant properties including lycopene, which lowers the risk of heart disease and cancer. HDC project PE 009 aimed to identify and quantify the bioactive nutrients in tomatoes.

Consultant Gerry Hayman collected UK fruit from different sites at different times in the growing season. He also collected conventionally and organically grown fruit as well as speciality and classic varieties. All of the fruit was analysed by Dr Paul Fraser at the Royal Holloway University, in London.

The effect of the ripening inhibitor gene (RIN) on tomato nutrients was also investigated. This gene lengthens the shelf life in imported fruit, allowing for fruit to be harvested while still hard and unripe to withstand transport.

In May, all UK fruit examined had higher levels of lycopene than those recorded in imported fruit. However, few differences were noted in total antioxidant and vitamin C content. Spanish fruit was found to contain more tocopherols and phenolics.

In September, all fruit had more lycopene, rutin, total oxidants and vitamin C. No differences were recorded between conventionally and organically grown fruit. Novelty and classic varieties had distinctive nutrient profiles.

All recorded levels of nutrients were in line with published literature, affirming that breeding has not compromised the nutrient content of tomatoes.

The full project report for HDC project PE 009 can be found on the HDC website at

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