Where you can find the best tomatoes in Britain? Sophie Morris finds out.
Ever come back from a holiday abroad, and bored the folk back home with tales of the “best tomatoes I’ve ever tasted”? Then wondered why our tomatoes taste so much less, well, tomato-ey by contrast?
According to one of Britain’s biggest tomato growers, Eric Wall Ltd, this is nothing to do with substandard tomatoes being produced on our little isle. “The best tasting tomatoes are the ones you can leave on the plant for longest,” insists Paul Faulkner, the nursery’s commercial manager.
“A domestically grown fruit can make it from vine to shelf in as few as 24 hours,” says Gary Rhodes, who investigated British tomatoes for an episode of The Great British Food Revival, which airs on BBC2 on Thursday. ‘This means the tomato can be left to ripen on the plant for longer, making for a sweeter flesh and a more full-flavoured fruit.”
Only 40 growers left in the UK
In Britain, 80% of tomatoes sold are imported, so it’s a rare treat to taste a tomato ripened until it is just ready to pluck. There are only 40 growers left in the country, even though tomatoes are among our favourite ingredients and we have been growing them for several centuries.
Eric Wall Ltd
The Eric Wall nursery in West Sussex has been in business for over 30 years. Eric himself came over from Guernsey in 1977 – the Channel Islands were a hotbed of tomato growers - because he thought it would make sense to grow his fruit closer to consumers.
Today, they supply Waitrose and Sainsbury’s. Eric is still active in the business, though it is run by his son Chris, and they grow a range of popular tomatoes including classic round tomatoes, cherry, plum, large vine tomatoes and Sunstream, a mid-sized baby plum on the vine.
Faulkner says his current favourites are a variety called Elegance, a large vine tomato with a soft texture and a lovely flavour that isn’t too sweet. He adds that British tomatoes are better for us as well as tastier, because growers are at the forefront of reducing pesticide applications, and (unlike other growers) have never been pulled up for using too much and leaving residues on the fruit. Eric Wall also recapture and recycle much of the water they feed the plants with, saving around 28m litres of water per year.
Organic grower Wight Salads
There are only two organic growers in the country, sadly, and one is Wight Salads on the Isle of Wight. Wight Salads supplies around 55% of the UK’s organic tomatoes and has been rewarded with the Young Grower of the Year award for Brian Moralee this year, and the Organic Grower of the Year award in 2009.
The tomatoes are grown in glasshouses, which benefit from 20% more sunlight than most of the rest of the country, leading to great tasting tomatoes.
Another young grower of the year, Paul Simmonds, works at Cornerways Nursery in Wissington, Norfolk. The nursery is owned by British Sugar and produces around 140m tomatoes every year.
Several green processes have been integrated into the growing – bumblebees pollinate the crop, and piping from the British Sugar plant nearby carries hot water to provide the high temperatures needed for tomato growing to Cornerways, which would otherwise have gone to waste.
Last year, Flavourfresh Salads in West Lancashire won the Horticulture Week Salad Grower of the Year award. Flavourfresh grow 17 varieties of speciality tomato and also uses bumble bees to pollinate the crop.
Rhodes says we grow the best tomatoes in the world, and that they have a deeper, sweeter flavour than your average tomato. “Choose British for a deeper, sweeter flavour,” he advises in the Great British Food Revival cookbook. “From a simple tomato salad to a rich, deep pasta sauce, the rewards of buying locally will be evident in the delicious food you enjoy.”
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