Every Albanian that has lived before the 90’s continues to wonder how come tomatoes do not have that wonderful taste as before. It is absurd to think how the Communist system that barely managed to feed an entire population, offered the tastiest tomatoes whereas now while we live in the “have it all” era, the taste of those wonderful tomatoes seems long gone.

AgroWeb.org has attempted to find an answer to a 1 million dollar question: why does the tomato taste like a tomato? The article below aims to provide explanations on this issue by some of the most distinguished experts.

What tomato varieties were grown in the 90s and are these crops still being cultivated?
No, they are not, at least not for commerce purposes. This answer could explain everything, but that is not the case. Experts told AgroWeb.org that tomato cultivars that grew in that period such as Tirana, Zemërkau, Agimi, Sanjollas do not yield massive amounts of fruit. Their cultivation before the 90s met consumer demand for an entire season and not on annual basis as it happens today. Secondly, farmers at the time grew other hybrid cultivars in greenhouses to cover exports. Experts told AgroWeb.org that the good taste of tomatoes was not only a result of the seed, but also because of the care, fertilization based on solid parameters and limited use of chemicals.

Nevertheless, there are still farmers that posses the abovementioned seeds, but they use them for limited household use and not for market sale. Albania nowadays grows tomato hybrids imported from Israel, Netherlands and other countries, which might be good, if farmers show good care during production.

How come we have unlimited tomato supply through the year?
AgroWeb.org interviewed many experts, according to whom having tomatoes throughout the year is quite normal. AgroWeb.org will brief you about the calendar of tomato planting and harvesting.

January marks the beginning of planting seeds in greenhouses whose yield is expected in April up to September. During April until June, Lushnja’s, Berati’s and

Fieri’s greenhouses deliver their produce. In August-September we mostly use tomatoes produced in the district of Korça.

March marks the beginning of planting tomato crops in the fields. Their yield is available in June-August. In July we have a second season of planting crops in the greenhouses which produce in October-February.

Experts assured AgroWeb.org that if fertilization and spraying is done according to the proper parameters, the taste and nutritional value of tomatoes will be at their best, taking into account that Albania’s climate conditions are quite favorable.

Then, what is really harming tomatoes?

Taking care of each plant is like art, experts say. It all starts with pollination. Tomatoes planted in greenhouses during January can not benefit from natural bee pollination, forcing farmers to use acetic acid and grizzle isolation or pollination bags. This means, that the farmer is a substitute for the bee landing flower to flower. This method is far from dangerous, nevertheless it is not natural.

The need for pollination bees is eminent. Farmers have opted for this solution. Pollinating bees compared to honeybees are plentiful in preserved premises, regardless of the weather. Due to their size, they provide a better pollination of plants and flowers.

Spraying of tomato plants, like any other plant is necessary to protect the plant from illnesses. However, it all depends on the timing and the amount. You can never spray plants few days before harvest, because pesticide trace requires some time to be removed from the plant. Not all farmers abide to this rule. Some are not aware while others are eager to harvest their plants and sell their produce as soon as possible, before their competitors. The world is facing a so called biological war, which means instead of spraying they use an integrated pest management system, using insects to stop invasive species or pests. Albania is not fully aware of this methodology.

Last but not least, fertilization. Tomatoes thrive in organic manure and soil otherwise the fruit will have azotic traces that are hazardous.

Truths and Myths about hormones
We have heard so much about the methods of artificial ripening of tomatoes. Some farmers are eager to rapidly harvest their produce, use some kind of ethanol called Ethrel prohibited in EU countries to provide an artificial coloring of tomatoes. The chemical is used to spray the lower part of the fruit that connects to the stem and accelerate the uniform but unnatural ripening of tomato.
Experts believe that the ethanol is not hazardous to humans, however there are some who swear to its dangerous consequences to the human body.
Farmers in Albania might go overboard with its usage and the fruit might not be able to absorb the liquid plant growth regulator, hence ruining its taste and plant structure.

Experts believe that ethrel is not the only one to blame but its dosage as well taking into account that the farmers are driven by the need for rapid profits.
Nevertheless, experts recommend that consumers whole fruit tomato with no with uniform ripening inside and out, and avoid hollow fruits. Nevertheless these recommendations do not mean that consumers can be 100% sure of the quality of their purchase.

Farmers take the advantage of the phrase ‘I’ve grown them in my own yard”, but this does not mean that their produce is certified. We must not fully trust the conscience of our sellers. Consumers must be cautious, demand to know about the origin of the product, certificate or even carefully read the label when they buy tomatoes at a supermarket. It is a fundamental right of every consumer to be informed about the product. Institutions are obliged to carry out detailed inspections, but awareness comes from the consumer first. Consumers must be careful when buying a product. It may be expensive, but health does not come cheap./AgroWeb.org