An update on the 10.0 Brix Tomato Challenge

Tomatoes at the MarketThe 10 Brix Tomato Challenge is dedicated to the late Emmett Watson who wished for a great Pacific Northwest-grown tomato. The idea is see if there is something to learn about growing tomatoes for better density and flavor, to salute the best growers and hopefully create demand for a better tomato.  Just my luck it would be the coolest summer in 30 years. We have gone straight from July to October; in my own garden, planted late, I have yet to see a ripe tomato.

We have been sampling tomatoes from different growers selling in Seattle area Farmers Markets for the past month. Thanks to farmer’s market managers Chris Curtis (University, Magnolia, Columbia City, West Seattle), Julie Whitehorn (Queen Anne), and Lori Taylor, (Bellevue) for your support of the project and for help with gathering samples and logistics. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Testing tomatoes from the Bellevue Farmer's Market

Testing tomatoes from the Bellevue Farmer's Market

It has been a tough slog. Very few tomatoes brixed over 6.0 which is my benchmark for a tomato-tasting tomato. It gets discouraging when tomato after tomato, week after week, no matter which variety, no matter which grower, Brixes under 6.0, with some as low as 3.5.

Things perked up past Saturday at the U. District Farmer’s Market when a sizable firm Brandywine of intense red color spoke out to me, “You aren’t going to be disappointed in me.” And I wasn’t disappointed. “That is a tomato!” exclaimed Greg Atkinson, who happened to walk up at the moment. Farmers Market StallIt didn’t reach 10 Brix but it jumped way up the Brix ladder to 8.2…pretty exciting actually after a month of low Brix measurements. There followed tomatoes from two different growers at the Ballad Market on Sunday which measured over 7.0 Brix, encouragement to keep the Tomato Challenge going another week. The grower of the 8.2 tomato (don’t want to spoil the ending), who grows tomatoes uncovered outside, says his tomatoes are just coming on. They are at the same stage of ripening in the middle of Sept that they were in the middle of August last year. It the weather cooperates with a few more warm days, we might see a 10 Brix tomato after all! That would make me very happy.

Brandywine ready for the Brix test.

Brandywine ready for the Brix test.

I set the bar at 10.0 Brix based on notes I have taken on farmer’s market tomatoes and my own P-Patch tomatoes in the past. 10 Brix is doable (on a good year). Tomatoes are tested with Vee Gee and Atago refractometers by squeezing a drop of juice on the lens and viewing the % of sugar or Brix through the viewfinder.

Squeeze a drop of juice on the lens.

Squeeze a drop of juice on the lens.

Growing tomatoes for density and flavor is a matter of providing the plant optimum conditions for photosynthesis or the manufacture of glucose. I’d love to see the day when the best growers post their tomato Brix like Seattle’s Metropolitan Markets post their Peach-O-Rama Brix daily.

Lens cap closed over a drop of juice. Ready for viewing.

Lens cap closed over a drop of juice. Ready for viewing.

The 10 Brix Tomato Challenge winner will recieve $100 cash, dinners at Blueacre SeafoodThe Herbfarmemmer & rye, and both the Steelhead Diner and Blueacre Seafood tomato accounts. If no 10 Brix tomato turns up, $100 will go to the highest Brix tomato.

If you are interested in this project, I will be discussing tomato flavor and will be measuring sugars in Saturday’s tomatoes  from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. at the Slow Food booth as part of the Artisan Food Fair at Pike Place Market. Bring a tomato from your garden. I will be happy to measure, or show you how to measure. it’s percentage of sugars.


A pretty Brandywine. Will this be the one?

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2 Responses to An update on the 10.0 Brix Tomato Challenge

  1. morgan says:

    now THAT is a beautiful tomato!

  2. I love a challenge, but even this year, I fear my sweetest tomatoes are wallowing in self-pity, not sweetness. Thanks for great post.

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