A Cornell plant breeder has developed an unusual tomato – with yellow flesh and an oblong shape that prompted its fans to name it “Yellow Submarine.”
Developed by Phillip Griffiths, associate professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science, Horticulture Section, in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), the tomato – known as WRSTCP2 during development – has clear skin with an ethereal, semitranslucent look and is resistant to cracking on the vine.
Fruition Seeds, based in Naples, New York, is bringing the variety to market in 2024.
“People were just unanimously delighted by the flavor and by the shape,” said Petra Page-Mann, Fruition’s co-founder. The company spent the last two years growing and taste-testing it with its customers, after Cornell approached them with the variety.
Griffiths, who specializes primarily in brassica vegetables, characterized his tomato breeding efforts as starting as a “freedom project” – something fun to do on Friday afternoons – that got much bigger. Previous years’ tomato breeding yielded the colorful Galaxy Suite of grape tomatoes, available from High Mowing Organic Seeds.
He crossbreeds many different types of small-fruited tomatoes, which can add to a whole new level of biodiversity. “This enables us to generate all types of colors and shapes,” he said. “And then we evaluate them, we demonstrate them to people, we try and identify the types that people like the look of, like the taste of, that perform well for production in the Northeast.”
Breeding, development and cultivation of this tomato variety happened both at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, New York, and at Cornell Agricultural Experiment Station’s Homer C. Thompson Vegetable Research Farm in Freeville, New York.
After identifying the tomato as different and interesting, Griffiths and his team approached Fruition Seeds about commercializing the variety.
Page-Mann said they “jumped up and down” at the chance to try it out. “It’s unbelievable to have Cornell as a partner and co-visionary in what we are eating and why,” she said.
Fruition took the tomato to their customers and social media followers to find a more creative name. People suggested more than 80 ideas and then voted on the winner: Yellow Submarine. “We are a very community-oriented seed company,” Page-Mann said, “and so this name very much reflects the humor and delight of our community.”
While the seeds will be available to home gardeners, Yellow Submarine is unlikely to be sold at grocery stores. Rather, the intent of the partnership between Fruition and Cornell is to bring different, fun and engaging products to the market, Griffiths said.
“A lot of exciting products get killed because they don’t have those mainstream, maximum profit angles,” Griffiths said. “It’s very easy for the economic world in which we live to cut out a lot of the exciting products that exist in the natural world. People never see them just because they’re not perceived as having as high an economic return.”
But many of Cornell’s open-pollinated varieties, including the Yellow Submarine, have the potential to become future heirloom varieties, bringing delight to future generations, Page-Mann said.
“It’s not a hybrid,” she said. “And that means we save the seed so we can share it with you, and it will grow true to type, exactly like its parent. And so can our great-great-great-great grandchildren.”