It's called anthocyanin. It makes for purple tomatoes, and it's good for you.
These antioxidant pigments, the same type found in red wine, are making their way into a once rare type of tomato. Researchers at Oregon State University have figured out how to naturally produce these grape-colored fruit without any "unnatural" means. The tomatoes are crossbred with variety that grows naturally. By crossing the different types of tomatoes, researchers learned that a single dominant gene is responsible for producing the pigment, much like eye or hair color in animals.
This discovery first surfaced in 2004, when the university announced the findings of Jim Myers, a vegetable breeding professor at OSU.
"The medical, the nutritional and the food research industries all are keenly interested in the health benefits of phytochemicals in all sorts of fruits and vegetables," said Myers. "We are happy to find out we can accomplish this in tomatoes using traditional, classical plant breeding techniques."
The purples have generated their own buzz lately as CNN picked up the story in an article today. The article speculated that the tomatoes might not be the next revolution in food but could find their ways into American dishes shortly.
Tomatoes are the second most consumed vegetable in world, behind potatoes, said Myers.
“Per capita use in the U.S. in 2003 was 89 pounds of tomatoes per person. If we could boost the nutritional value of tomatoes, a large part of the population would benefit.”
That's over 200 pounds of food consumed per person per year in tomatoes and potatoes alone. Makes you wonder about all that ketchup and french fries.