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Tomatoes Go 'Beta' When They're Orange

Tomatoes Go "Beta" When They're Orange Animation:  Dancing tomato that changes color between red and orange

Photo:   Vise tool squeezes juice from a tomato into a catsup bottle

Care for some orange-colored catsup on your fries?

While funky new tomato varieties make this a possibility, orange-colored pasta sauces and vegetable juices are more likely, a plant breeder predicts.

Oranges are orange. Carrots are orange. Pumpkins are orange, too, of course. But how about an orange tomato? It's true! Some day you may see more of these nutritious fruits at your local supermarket, right next to the red ones!


That's the word from John R. Stommel, an Agricultural Research Service scientist in Beltsville, Maryland. There, he has bred new tomatoes that are packed with more beta-carotene than regular red tomatoes. This brings out the fruit's natural orange coloring better.


Your body takes in beta-carotene and turns it into vitamin A, an essential nutrient that helps your bones and teeth grow strong and healthy. Beta-carotene is especially important in helping you to see clearly. After all, rabbits like carrots--and have you ever seen a rabbit with glasses?

Regular red tomatoes have beta-carotene, but in such small amounts that you can't see the orange. Stommel's new orange tomatoes have almost 35 to 40 times more beta-carotene than the usual red tomato. Wow, that's a nutritious tomato!

Some people use food dyes to color eggs or other foods. In a similar way, scientists like Stommel--who breed new fruit and vegetable varieties with much higher amounts of beta-carotene--can actually change the color of the foods. But don't worry. When you eat a high-beta tomato, it won't turn your skin orange!

"Beta for my Bones!"

Animation:  Dancing skeleton



Outline map of U.S. mainland in stars and stripes The United States is number two in the world for producing fresh and processed tomatoes, with Florida and California leading the way.

It may be a while before you can buy Stommel's orange tomatoes at your own grocery store. For now, they will be used to add more nutritional punch to products like tomato paste, juices and sauces.

When you see these tomatoes at the store, you can show your parents your nutritional expertise and say, "Eat all your orange tomatoes because they're good for you!"

So, what's Stommel's take on an orange catsup becoming as popular as the red stuff we're so used to? "I think it would be a stretch," he says. "But you never know."

Animation:  Horizontal bar, in swirling rainbow colors


Drawing: First of three tomatoes used as  bulletsDo you know how many servings of each food group you're supposed to eat every day? Yes? No? Sort of? Find out the latest from USDA's Food Guide Pyramid.


Drawing:  Second tomatoJohn Stommel's Vegetable Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, has some interesting tomato tidbits. Look for the "Veggie Bites" button.


Drawing:  Third  tomatoTo read about the fresh-tomato industry, click on this link to USDA's Economic Research Service.

--By Tara Weaver, formerly Information Staff, Agricultural Research Service

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