The people of Japan are as picky about produce as anywhere, but one man has helped find a place for “ugly tomatoes” that have gone to the “dark side.”
Tomatoes may have originated from the Americas, but they’re now a commonplace supermarket staple around the world, and that certainly includes Japan. Of course, grocery shoppers in Japan look for the qualities in a tomato as anywhere else, too. We all want a fresh, sweet tomato, with a smooth, vibrant red, unblemished skin. Most consumers assume that a tomato with ugly dark spots on the skin will be tasteless, or worse, dangerous.
But it turns out that dark spots on a tomato skin don’t necessarily mean danger. In fact, tomatoes with these unsightly blemishes usually aren’t shipped out to supermarkets because shoppers avoid them, but they’re still fine in terms of both nutrition and flavor. In the end, they’re used in huge quantities for juices and all kinds of processed foods.
For farmers who are likely to get a better price on tomatoes sold at supermarkets, however, it seems a shame to hide the “ugly tomatoes” away in factories when they’re perfectly good. So one Japanese farmer recently decided to tackle this problem in a unique way, and give the tomatoes a brand new look, so to speak.
Soga Farm has begun to sell these tomatoes as “yamiochi tomato” (闇落ちとまと), meaning “dark side tomatoes.” Yes, that dark side. The text tells us that the tomatoes “have above average attributes, but have fallen to the dark side just like Annakin Skywalker, the poor things!”
As the Jack-o-lantern tomato is saying, “we’re actually the sweetest of all!”
It’s hard to believe the claims of sweet and juicy flavor when looking from the outside, since we’re all so used to avoiding imperfect produce, but it’s easier to understand when you cut one of the dark side tomatoes in half and see the perfectly delicious looking interior.
In an interview in Japanese with Huffington Post, Soga Farm owner Shinichi Soga explains that when you restrict the water of tomato plants―an important part of producing particularly sweet and delicious tomatoes―these kinds of tomatoes, replete with ugly dark spots, are simply inevitable. It’s not disease or true rot, it’s just a natural process. But since the effects of the water restriction are seen so strongly on these ugly tomatoes, they also tend to be particularly tasty. If you just cut the spots off and use the rest like normal, you’ll end up with some great tomatoes.
Of course, this kind of marketing is difficult to communicate on a broader scale, and with COVID-19 having unexpected effects on markets of all kinds, Soga Farm is looking for new ways to sell their “dark side tomatoes.” At the moment, they’re sticking to places like farmer’s markets or similar environments, where they have the chance to explain the “ugly tomatoes” to customers directly, without the risk of misunderstanding.
The internet is clearly hoping Shinichi Soga will change his mind, though. When Soga Farm shared pictures and wrote about their dark side tomatoes on Twitter, the tweet was retweeted more than 50,000 times in just six hours, and started to attract some real attention. Comments started to pile up, with plenty agreeing that whoever had named the dark side tomatoes “has great taste,” and even more netizens longingly hoping to try the tomatoes themselves.
All in all, the post was a bit of a revelation for many Twitter users, who saw tomatoes in a new light. In the world of produce, looks aren’t everything! The tomatoes may have turned to the dark side, but they sure helped us all see the light.
Also, there was some good dark side tomato fanart!