The Scientific Reason So Many People Can't Stand Raw Tomatoes

Tomatoes — those juicy, colorful, and slightly bulbous spheres — are found on plates across the world. From fast food burgers to Bolognese sauces, these vegetables (or are they fruits?) star in many dishes. For some, ripe tomatoes are a synonym for warm summer days and delicious meals. Yet for all of their fanfare, tomatoes are not beloved by everyone. While there might not be any hard statistics available, most people know someone who has a serious aversion to raw tomatoes.

To those who love the juicy pulp of a fresh beefsteak tomato, this hostility doesn't make much sense. After all, tomatoes aren't that different from a seedy and pulpy cucumber or squash, which don't seem to garner nearly as much loathing. What's even more peculiar is that many avowed raw tomato haters can handle eating them in a sauce or when cooked. However, it turns out there's a possible chemical culprit behind this striking distaste. The secret to extreme tomato revulsion may be due to high levels of glutamate, the compound primarily responsible for creating umami flavor.

Glutimate and umami

In an interview with The Takeout, Gastropod host Nicola Twilley notes that the glutamate found in tomatoes is the "main chemical trigger for umami taste." Umami is one of five taste categories, alongside sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, and is best described as the savory taste found in many cooked meat dishes. While glutamate is present in many fruits and vegetables, tomatoes have far higher levels, giving them a meaty, acidic taste that's not found in other veggies. Twilley theorizes that this highly unique taste causes some dislike of tomatoes.

A study partially conducted by Michelin-starred chef Heston Blumenthal and published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry investigated the chemical makeup of a standard tomato. The paper showed that tomato pulp holds significantly higher levels of glutamic acid than tomato flesh. So if umami taste is indeed the culprit behind tomato hate, then perhaps tomatoes removed from their pulpy interiors might be more palatable to those who can't stand them.

It should also be noted that tomatoes are one of the most allergenic vegetables. In fact, according to a paper in the journal Antioxidants, up to 9.3% of the European population has a tomato allergy. In some cases, adverse reactions to the taste of a tomato could just be the result of an allergy.

Other vegetable aversions

Tomatoes aren't the only vegetable that some people despise. It turns out Americans have pretty negative views of several root vegetables. In a poll reported by Fox, 2,000 people were surveyed about their vegetable preferences. The final results showed that 27% of participants found turnips to be their least favorite vegetable. This was closely followed by beets (26%) and radishes (23%).

In the "favorites" column, corn came out on top with 91% of polled participants ranking it as their top vegetable. While tomatoes certainly have their detractors, Americans at large overwhelmingly enjoy the vegetable, with 89% of respondents ranking them as their favorite veggie. Carrots tied with tomatoes as one of the top favorites, and were closely followed by onions and green beans.

Perhaps the biggest shocker from the report? A whopping 25% of participants claim that "they never eat vegetables." It doesn't come as a surprise, then, that 72% of respondents reported that "they wish they ate more veggies than they currently do."