Scientists make purple tomatoes available to US home gardeners for the first time ever

Genetically modified purple tomato seeds are now available to buy in the US

Purple tomatoes
(Image credit: Jenny Dettrick via Getty Images)

US gardeners who are bored of growing ordinary tomatoes can now opt for a purple variety. The tomatoes have been genetically modified by scientists in the UK and are now available to buy in seed form in the US to grow at home.

Scientists from Norfolk Plant Sciences have bioengineered a new tomato variety that contains purple antioxidants called anthocyanins. These are nutrients that can be found in other purple fruit and vegetables like blueberries, blackberries and eggplants. Norfolk Healthy Produce, a subsidiary of Norfolk Plant Sciences, is selling Purple Tomato seeds - the only variety to have purple antioxidants in the flesh and skin.

The approach included combining tomatoes with two genes from edible snapdragon flowers. Work on developing the new tomato variety began in 2008, when the leading scientist on the project and co-founder of Norfolk Plant Sciences, Professor Cathie Martin, first made the scientific breakthrough. The variety has not been made available commercially until now. 

Purple tomatoes

(Image credit: Jenny Dettrick via Getty Images)

The purple tomato seeds are only available in the US, having passed biotechnology regulatory processes with the US Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration and US Environmental Protection Agency.

'It has been my wish that gardeners could grow and enjoy purple tomatoes, and share in the health and beauty,' says Cathie Martin. 'It is so exciting that gardeners in the USA can grow these in the 2024 season,' she adds.

Purple tomatoes for better health

Purple tomatoes

(Image credit: Aliaksandr Bahdanovich via Getty Images)

American consumer research from Norfolk Healthy Produce showed that 80% of people surveyed were interested in eating and growing purple tomatoes, knowing it is a genetically modified organism (GMO).

The 'Purple Tomato' was developed to increase sustainable and nutritious food options for gardeners and consumers. The anthocyanins used to create its purple color have a whole host of health benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties, according to the bioengineering company. 

'We live in a time with many organic and non-GMO options in produce,' says Dr. Nathan Pumplin, CEO of Norfolk Healthy Produce. 'Consumers looking for something better and different, enabled with biotechnology, have very few options to choose from.' He added the company is proud it can offer an 'additional choice to interested consumers and suppliers'.

'Our tomato is just a tomato - you can grow it in your garden next to your 'Sun Golds' and 'Purple Cherokees', and other favorite varieties,' says Nathan. 

Professor Cathie Martin
Cathie Martin

Professor Cathie Martin is a Professor of Plant Sciences at the University of East Anglia and project leader at John Innes Centre. Cathie's research interests include using plant science to improve human diet and health. She founded Norfolk Plant Sciences with Professor Jonathan Jones, based at the John Innes Centre and the Sainsbury Laboratory where the 'Purple Tomato' was developed. 

Tenielle Jordison
News Writer (Gardens)

Tenielle is a News Writer in the Gardens team at Homes & Gardens with five years of journalistic experience. She studied BA Journalism, Media and English Literature and MA Magazine Journalism at Cardiff University. Before coming to Homes & Gardens, Tenielle was in the editorial department at the Royal Horticultural Society and worked on The Garden magazine. She is passionate about sustainable living and the role gardening has to play in tackling the effects of climate change. Tenielle is also a houseplant lover who is slowly running out of room for her ever-growing collection. She has experience successfully propagating indoor plants and overcoming common houseplant problems.