The dripless tomato arrives
No more tomato juice dribbling down your chin or making your salads soggy: Israel's new dripless tomato, the Admoniya is ready for market. Starring at the October 13-28 Tomato Festival at Tel Aviv's Hilton Hotel, some 400 kilograms (882 pounds) of the fruit were brought to the Hilton's chefs from the RT Fresh farm of Moshav Tekuma in the western Negev.
As the new variety makes it domestic debut, it is also taking its first bows on the European stage. Exports of the tomato, branded 'Intense' for the overseas market, began last month. Packed six to a package, about 500 tons of Intense fresh tomatoes are expected to be shipped by next spring to several European countries via Holland.
"You can cut them however you want and the liquid will stay inside the fruit," says RT marketing director Avishai Trabelsi. "You can put these tomatoes in a sandwich and eat it a few days later and they will taste fresh and the bread will not be soggy. They're also great for salads."
You can hold an Intense tomato and bite into it just like you do an apple and they won't drip. They also retain their shape after slicing - a boon for caterers who use tomato slices to garnish their dishes.
The legendary Israeli tomato expertise
Israeli tomato expertise has become legendary worldwide. The cherry tomato was developed in Israel in 1973, and it was here that Israeli seed breeder Hazera Genetics launched the first tomato strain with immunity to a devastating virus, in 2004. Hazera had another breakthrough last summer, when it introduced Antonella, a tomato that retains its firmness, flavor, and aroma even after a week at room temperature.
Trabelsi's father Rami, who owns RT, grows the new variety of tomato in hothouses from Dutch seeds. Intense tomatoes are said to boast a shelf life that's 40 percent longer than that of regular tomatoes and even after they're cut, to stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. This is because the juices stay locked in the solid part of the fruit.
The arrival of the new variety is not only welcome news for food-service professionals, schoolchildren and brown-baggers, but also for the entire Israeli consumer public that's just starting to see the end of a temporary tomato shortage caused by an exceptionally hot summer.
In Europe, the Intense tomato joins a market where Israeli tomatoes are already in great demand for their quality and low cost during the winter months.
Israeli produce in demand abroad
From the late 1980s to the late 1990s, Israeli farmers developed and perfected new ways to grow crops under carefully controlled conditions in hothouses, rather than in open fields, using sophisticated methods for temperature regulation, irrigation, biological pest control, fertilization, sorting, and packing. They also borrowed proven techniques from other countries, such as the Dutch approach of trellising.
All of these advances have made Israeli tomatoes, as well as other produce and flowers, popular among foreign consumers. Both fresh and canned varieties are exported regularly to Europe and North America and the Asian market may soon be added to the mix.
"We expect to be shipping Intense tomatoes all year, because to make a new brand viable it must be available all the time," says 27-year-old Avishai, whose entire family is involved in RT Fresh. To ensure adequate quantities regardless of weather conditions, RT is also subleasing space for the seedlings at nearby farms.
Trabelsi, a former high-fashion model, recently took over as marketing director for his father's 30-year-old brand of premium tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, radishes, carrots, celery, citrus, pineapple and pomegranates. The second of five children who grew up on the 100-hectare (247-acre) farm, he is planning a trip to scout out new seed varieties in Spain, and is hoping to introduce Intense tomatoes in Canada next year.