I think every grower would agree in saying home-grown fruits and vegetables taste better than the store-bought counterpart. In this post, I want to take a close look at the flavor of the food we grow. Do home-grown Vegetables really taste better? What causes the difference in flavor?
Do homegrown vegetables really taste better? Yes, they do. Shortened ripening time, selection of variety and nutrients in the soil all contribute to the flavor of our food. Stores try to maximize shelf life and appearance of their foodstuff, but taste often falls by the wayside
Before we go look at the why vegetables taste better, let’s first examine the “if”.
Do homegrown Vegetables really taste better?
You can quickly test this yourself at home. I prefer to use tomatoes, but this works with almost anything you have grown yourself. Cut up a fresh home-grown tomato and a store-bought one and place them on a tray. Make sure it isn’t apparent and let your friends compare the two. They will be able to tell the difference in almost all cases. This alone shows that there is a noticeable difference between home-grown and store-bought that goes beyond knowing you did grow it yourself.
To get to the point, home-grown vegetables really do taste better, the next step is to understand why.
What causes the Flavor of Vegetables
Flavor is a very complex topic, caused by the combination of basic tastes. The question becomes, why do home-grown vegetables taste better to almost everyone when taste itself is something very individual? While preferences might vary between people, the fundamental elements of flavor do not. This Study breaks down the basic components into Sweet, Salty, Sour, Bitter, and Savory. Vegetables and Fruits combine all these elements into a nice mixture, which is pleasant for most people. Only a few, slightly bitter veggies, are more often disliked. Store-bought greenstuff tends to be rather bland, lacking in those fundamental elements. So why is that? How does flavor develop within vegetables?
How to make home-grown Vegetables taste even better
What causes the flavor to develop in Vegetables? Well, the answer to this question is harden than I first thought. To get a good understanding of this topic, I did a lot of research; most of the information I am about to present comes from the Department of Plant Science – University of California, the US Department of Agriculture and the University College Dublin.
Better growing conditions
Home-growers take pride in their garden and do their best to keep the soil and plant health. Usually, they hold a higher standard when it comes to soil quality and subsequential the nutrients available to the plants. This plays a huge role in the development of the plant and the flavor of its fruits.
Without an optimal amount of Minerals, plants can still grow and produce massive amounts, but their quality (taste) will be lower. All in all, this plays only a smaller role in the difference between home-grown and store-bought vegetables but helps to explain the next factor.
Home-grown vegetables produce fewer fruits on average. For us hobby growers, it’s more about the quality of what we grow and less about the quantity. Pruning your plants help to prevent many diseases and also reduces the competition between its fruits. Hence each fruit will get more nutrients, making them better tasting.
Watering plays a role
I didn’t test this one, so take it with a grain of salt. According to a study from the USDA, the time between the last watering and harvest also affects taste.
Freshness plays a big part in the taste of fruits and vegetables. You usually eat your home-grown Veggies moments after picking them. It’s another story when you look at Vegetables in the store; they often have been harvested weeks before they are sold.
Let’s take a look on the other side of the coin. Why do Vegetables in stores usually taste so bland?
The reason store-bought Vegetables normally taste worse
Now we’ve come to the Crux of this topic. The main difference is not about what you do, but what you don’t do. Stores have to use some tricks to ensure their fresh foodstuff stays in shape; Usually affecting the flavor in the process. What are those tricks, and how do they lead to inferior taste?
Plant variety and taste
Supermarkets want to maximize their sales and reduce the amount of money lost to spoilage. For those reasons, most commercially produced Vegetables are incredibly durable, good looking, fast-growing, and almost identical in shape. Customers don’t go into a shop and just bite into some random fruits (at least I hope so). Taste doesn’t impact the number of sales that much, so it’s not a significant concern. Weight is another big factor in maximizing profit; fruits that absorb lots of water sell for a higher price.
Producers adjust to those needs by producing varieties that specialize in those traits. On the Flipside, the backyard gardener doesn’t care about most of these factors, all he wants are some excellent tasting Veggies. Comparing store-bought and home-grown Vegetables isn’t really fair, because they are set out to achieve completely different things.
Produce are picked immature
Most if not all Vegetables you can get in the supermarket are picked green. They are much easier to handle and to transport in an unripe state, esp. if they have to travel half the country before they are at their destination. These fruits are ripened artificially by using Ethylene gas (which naturally occurs during the ripening process). No nutrients can be added once the fruit has been picked. Ripening will still cause the starch to break down to sugar (along with some other biochemical processes) making the fruit at least edible.
Lots of factors influence the quality of flavor after picking. Time, temperature, and humidity are just some examples. It’s easy to avoid all these issues in the home-grown scenario because you’ll probably eat your Veggies right after picking. This doesn’t work for commercially produced foodstuffs, and so far, it’s tough to ensure perfect conditions up to the point something is sold at a store. The Department of Plant science said more research is needed to determine optimal post-harvest handling.
There is one more difference between store-bought and home-grown crops. It has nothing to do with the plants themselves but with you as the grower.
You’ve put a lot of hard work and care into your plants over the last couple of months. They are yours, something you accomplished and achieved by your hands. For that reason alone, they will taste better. Your efforts enhance the -literal- fruits of your labor, the fact that you know they are yours will make them so much better. This, of course, has nothing to do with the fruit itself, but rather with the context.
Additionally, you might also expect them to taste better, why else would you put so much work into them? Confirmation bias is also often at play here.
Home-grown foodstuff not only tastes better because of all the physical differences but also because they are the reward for your fantastic work.
Which Vegetables show the most significant differences between home-grown and store-bought? The differences are most noticeable in Corn, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, and Strawberries. You’ll be able to tell the distinction between store-bought and home-grown in almost anything you grow. After tasting some fresh Tomatoes right from your garden, it’s hard to go back to the store version.
What about locally produced products? Locally produced foodstuff from the supermarket will still not quite taste like home-grown. Anything bought can never be as fresh as directly from plant to mouth. Locally produced products are stored and harvested before they get to peak ripeness to ensure a constant supply. The closest you can get to home-grown is to buy directly from the producer. Farms with an onsite shop will only pick what’s ripe, so they come very close to growing something yourself.