Does the Uglyripe deserve its pedestal?

For months now, I've been hearing raves about the Uglyripe...a winter tomato, banned from being distributed from it's birthplace in Florida to the rest of us yearning for real tomato flavor in these coldest months, simply because it was too ugly. I had never even heard of this "ugly-duckling" tomato until I read an article about it in Gourmet magazine, stating that it had the look of a "sunburned Ruebens derriere." Appetizing, no? But the article also stated that the taste of this particular derriere was worth the price ($4.99/lb in their story) to enjoy the juicy-sweet drippings of a "tomato that tastes like a tomato" in the wintertime.

Now, I don't know about the rest of you, and I would guess that most of you are on par with the taste, texture, and look of heirloom tomatoes, but I don't think the Uglyripe is ugly at all! In fact, I think it's gorgeous. First of all, it's actually red...not to say that there aren't beautiful heirloom varieties that abound in yellows, greens, oranges and shades of pink, but boy do I hate the round pink baseballs you can get in stores this time of year...especially when I know that they could be red; if they were not picked green, pickled with loads of ethylene gas, then shipped far and wide for you and I to "enjoy." But, just LOOK at those voluptuous curves! For those of you that have been reading my blog for a while, you know I grew up on a farm eating tomatoes we hand-picked from the garden, sun-kissed, juicy, and ripened by nature only. You also know my sheer love of this beautiful red fruit - because a good sun-ripened tomato has a flavor unlike anything else on Earth... which sad as it is, has turned me into a bonafide tomato snob.

So imagine my surprise while browsing a local market this weekend for a decent, but cheap, frozen dinner, when I caught sight of this beautiful crimson specimen of an Uglyripe tomato. Now, I know what you're thinking, but if you had to be in our kitchen, in our house with NO heat (while your dumb boyfriend chose this particular weekend of "record LOW temperatures" to go interveiw for jobs in Hawaii), and it's colder inside the house than it is outside coating the car and the ground with frost that doesn't get warmed up enough to melt during the day; you'd be hiding under an electric blanket and not wanting to cook either; just like moi!

I have no idea how these Uglyripes got here, to Eugene, because all of the information I can find about them is from the controversy last year about how the Florida Tomato Commission wouldn't allow them out of the state because they simply had too hideous a visage for consumers. But, nonetheless, here they were...at $2.69/lb! And what's even better than finding yourself a regular 'ol Uglyripe? A certified organic one at $2.69/lb!

So, of course, I just had to buy one. I had to see what all the hype was about. Was this gorgeous tomato just a prude? Taunting us with her well-endowed curves and bright red summer color, yet holding out on taste? ...Was she really just a tease? ...all the while tasting like mealy cardboard on the inside? Regardless, she was a pretty sight for these winter tomato-sore eyes. I took her home, nestled in her own little sack to keep her safe, and waited until the following day when the light came out and I could get a good picture for ya'll (Yep - altruism at it's finest...I put aside my lavish tomato-eating lust just so that I could take a decent picture to share with you...awwww....).

Now, being a good scientist, I needed a Control for this experiment. Since I just can't bring myself to eat completely shitty tomotoes from the grocery store in the wintertime, the only ones that I will buy on occasion are the organic vine-ripened ones that cost $5.99/lb. (YOUCH! Now, I'm a little concerned that these fancy Uglyripes are so cheap, but you're not supposed to look a gifthorse in the mouth, right?) These tomatoes still don't taste very good, but sometimes, even a tomato snob gets desparate for a tomato...not very often, mind you, but sometimes. So out came my altruistic nature once again; I broke down and bought one (as you simply must have a Control for any experiment).

I scored each of the tomatoes on a scale of 1-5 (5 being highest; 1 being lowest), so here is the data for The Uglyripe Experiment:

First of all, Color. The Uglyripe scored high in this department - I just think it's so pretty! The vine-ripened tomatoes tend also to be much nicer looking than the pink baseballs next to them in the bin, although I am partial to the curves of the Uglyripe compared to the little perfect spheres that make up the Control tomato variety...because at least in my experience, it's pretty un-natural to get a perfectly round tomato. This is just personal preference, of course, but since I'm the one doing the experiment... Score: CONTROL - 3; UGLYRIPE - 5

. The Uglyripe had a good texture. It gave in all the right places, was firm, yet yeilding. Lucky for the Control tomato, it didn't do so bad in this department either. Score: CONTROL - 5 ; UGLYRIPE - 5

When I cut into the Uglyripe, the juice came shooting out - but not too much (also good). The Control tomato looked a little mealy, as opposed to juicy, but it wasn't as bad as some I've seen, so I gave it a decent score. Score: CONTROL - 3; UGLYRIPE - 4

Now, came the Taste test; the most important. First, the Control... to get my palette aware of what it should be comparing. A bit of salt to bring out the flavor, a big swallow of anticipation, I opened my mouth, shoved it in, and...almost tasteless. It didn't taste like anything. No sun-love here; no burst of juicy goodness... nothing at all, just BLAH. Slick and smooth...but sticking to the sides of my mouth and tongue as I mashed it up in there. Reminding myself that this was for the good of all, I swallowed the red goopy mess and took a swig of water to wash the carboard down. Ew.

Now armed with something to compare the Uglyripe to, I cut myself off a slice, sprinkled a bit of salt on the flesh, and took my first timid bite.

Chew...chew...and then it hit me. It didn't taste good at all! It actually had kind of a sour tang to it, but that was the only noticeable flavor! No gush of rich, complex flavor - sweet from the sugars held in by the sun. I felt cheated, failed, hurt. The rest of this poor Uglyripe is now sitting in my fridge - waiting to be cooked into some future dish, cuz I'm sure as heck not going to eat it by itself again. Score: CONTROL - 1; UGLYRIPE - 2.

Now, perhaps my expectations were too high. Can one really expect a winter tomato to taste anything like the memories of a summer tomato? Or years of expectations built up from eating them out of my mother's garden, picked by her hands, and sliced with love? To be fair, I can say that on those few days during the winter where I just want a slice of a friggin' tomato on my sandwhich or I just don't feel like thawing out the roasted tomatoes I've stored away or opening a jar from our stock of home-canned heirlooms tomatoes or if I can't stand the thought of opening another can from the store (a very viable option, because at least these are canned when their flavor is still in tact) - I'd probably spend the $2.69/lb (cheap, comparatively) and buy myself a winter Ugly.

If I was a really good scientist (which I'm not or I probably would be working and not blogging right now), I would have bought more than a single Uglyripe and a few vine-ripened specimens for comparison...since we know that one must repeat ones experiments before making any solid conclusions. Well, this scientist is a poor grad student scientist, and she just didn't want to spend all of her meager savings on less-than-delicious tomatoes. So, until summer, I think I'll still be getting my tomatoes from a can.

Overall Scores:
CONTROL - 12/20;
UGLYRIPE - 16/20;
Cardboard from the box my BBM4 presents came in - 20/20;
First taste of a summer tomato after a winter of waiting - PRICELESS.

20 comments from you:

Nerissa said...

I got that Gourmet magazine, too, and wondered at the logic behind not allowing the Uglyripes out based on looks. For goodness sakes, it's not a runway model! It's food!. I've always been a little against this idea that the whole foods I use in my dishes have to start out picture perfect. I thought they must be out of their minds to call those beauties in the Gourmet magazine "ugly". That's just nuts! They are gorgeously rubenesque and hold so much promise in their rippling skin.

Now I wonder if your experiment should also have had the financial wherewithall to travel to Florida and taste the ones they had there too. Food always seems to taste better when locally bought. I am a tad suspicious that they showed up in your store after reading about the fuss. Smuggled seeds? Smuggled fruit? Hmmm... who's to say. I don't think the experiment is over yet, eh? And I sure as hell don't agree with them for their refusal to part based on looks. They are Beautyripes in the looks department as far as I am concerned.

Kitchen Queen said...

I grew up on fresh, locally grown tomatoes too. Thank you for sacrificing your taste buds in the name of tomato science for all of us!

Rick said...

WoW! by the looks of it i would have bought it for sure- kind of a Red Brandywine look to it. Thanks for the info! Mabye all the hype was just an attempt to sneek in a new type of hybrid into the homes of tomato snobs longing for their summer crop. I saw some "organics" in the stoe the other day, i swear they were all EXACTLY the same size and the vines wer within a millimeter apart in equal spacing. I passed. its a plot i tell you, an evil plot.
-Rick, The Tomato project.

vlb5757 said...

I have never been a fresh tomato person. I had a bad experience with a small brown paper lunch bag filled with cherry tomatoes. So I rarely eat fresh tomatoes but eat them in every other form. I cracked up reading about your testing the tomatoes. Only another foodie would understand this effort. Applause, applause!

cookiecrumb said...

Oh, god, reading your post was like having sex and wondering if I was going to *climax* or not. What a tease.
You made me horny, but I didn't think the "tomato" would be any good, so I was really wavering.
In fact, I'm greatly relieved to learn the tomato was a fake orgasm. I just didn't want to believe in it.
Onward to summer and the real thing.

Clare Eats said...

You had me convinced it was good LOL, then to find out it was really nasty? so not good. But I think you need a weighted comparison as taste should be the highest weighted factor!

Melissa CookingDiva said...

Michelle, great report! I love tomatoes, and specially the ones that are organic. Mother nature shares an array of colors and shapes that are only concived when naturally grown. Nothing better when they get to ripe in the tree :)

Anonymous said...

Excellent review.

Kate said...

For a minute there, I thought there was a tomato out there that tasted good in winter!
But *sigh* it was too much to hope for.

Great review. Thanks!

linda said...

Count me with the real tomato lovers...
And I loved your review~ I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the result!

rob said...

Testify! I too am sad to hear to tomato experiment was a failure. Trying to find a decent tomato in the summer is hard too, but it appears impossible in the winter.

We normally just stick to cherry tomatoes in the winter. They're not idea, but I find they tend to have semi-decent flavour, and they almost never have a mealy texture (which is what really turns me off a tomato).

Great post.

Amy Jo said...

New Seasons in Portland is also selling Ugly Ripes, and I too fell for the possibility. I just had to have a BLT. Like you, I was disappointed. I should have just eaten the bacon and toast or spread some tomato paste on the sandwich.

MC Hungry Hippo said...

I was so hopeful when I saw the beautiful photo of the Uglyripe...I'd give anything for an August tomato now! Good to know that it looks too good to be true. And I love taste tests...I am currently planning a few tests for various things, like scotch...

michelle said...

Hi diningdica! I agree! Experiments are never over, and had I known the Uglyripe existed when I was down in Florida, then I would have definitely sought it out! I love the name 'beautyripes,' as they truly are beautiful.

Hi Kitchenqueen! LOL! That's what I'm here for!

Hi Rick! It IS a plot! We can't have everything we want...some things are worth the wait, as you know, my tomato friend. I think I have to agree with you that the brandywines are by far the best tomatoes.

Hi Vickie! I sense a story... I have a weird thing where I love fresh tomatoes, but I cannot eat them on sandwiches, no matter what. ew. But any other way!!

Hi Cookiecrumb! Having you visit my site is like an exercise in trying not to spit whatever unfortunate beverage I happen to be enjoying all over my computer! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Hopefully summer will come quickly and relieve us of our sexual tension!

Hi Clare! Ah, another scientist to set me straight! I'll add a weighted comparison for my next repeat experiment!

Hi Melissa! Well said! I love that real tomatoes don't came in baseball shapes or boring colors!

Hi Brendon! Thanks for visiting!

Hi Kate! There you are again so cute on your rock! Just trying to keep you on your toes!

Hi Linda! Glad I could keep you entertained! Thanks for stopping by my site!

Hi Rob! Me too - when I need tomatoes for a salad or something, I will buy the little cherry tomatoes, for the same reason as you - no mealy flesh for me!

Hi Amy Jo! oh please don't put tomato paste on your sandwich - it's not worth that! LOL! Glad to know I'm not the only tomato snob out there!

Hi Mc Hungry Hippo! Can't wait to see how the scotch tasting comes out - and the hangover after! Be careful! And let us know, LB is a BIG scotch fan!

Easily Pleased said...

great post. great writing, excellent experiment. (and cookiecrumb up there, that was a hilarious comment LOL!)

Personally i think the whole Uglyripe thing is a scam - a big marketing scheme. Anyone who searches out and eats weird-lookin', malformed heirlooms... this 'mato ain't ugly. That's just stupid.

Rob up there is right - organic cherry tomatoes seem the best choice in winter, at least where I live. Even the ones at Trader Joe's are pretty tasty!

karina said...

The only tomatoes we can bear to approach are the organic grape tomatoes. But they will never be as good as the real deal. Living in the Northeast sucks [in winter].

Dawna said...

Wonderful tomato post! You really got my hopes up with the Uglyripe, but I guess I'll have to wait for the local Heirlooms. *sigh*

I'm enjoying your blog immensely!

michelle said...

Hi Easily Pleased! Thanks - I knew this scientific training would come in handy at some point in my life! I'm all about the cherry tomatoes in the winter too - at least they're too small to become cardboardy!

Hi Karina! I agree - I do like the little grapes in the winter. I've heard stories about NE winters from my boyfriend (he's from MA), but I know you get some yummy things out there in the summer!

Hi Dawna! Thanks, and I'm glad that you could stop by!

Dawn said...

Michelle, I must have read the same article as you, I have been wondering about these tomatoes, too. What a shame about the taste. But I suspect, like others, that this tomato was more likely locally grown (at least not from Florida) as a response to the article in the hopes of selling well. Good report, it answers all of my questions! There is nothing quite like a summer tomato.

michelle said...

Dawn: I didn't think about that - you're probably right! Now I need to go back to Florida and try theirs! I wish I would have read about it before I went there.