Between cotton candy grapes and tropical punch-flavored strawberries, several unique fruit varieties are lining the supermarket shelves. But this recent novelty may be the funkiest one of them all.
In a recent press release, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced that it has approved a genetically modified purple tomato that was developed by a team of scientists at Norfolk Plant Sciences, a Norwich, England-based research institute.
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According to the USDA, the purple tomatoes “may be safely grown and used for breeding in the United States” and are “unlikely to pose an increased plant pest risk compared to other cultivated tomatoes.”
But don’t let appearances fool you because these tomatoes pack a nutritious punch, too. Aside from their vibrant purple color, the fruits were engineered to to be high in nutrients, specifically, anthocyanins, which are antioxidant-rich pigments that give blueberries and blackberries their deep hues.
The USDA’s recent approval marks the end of a nearly 15-year wait for biochemist Cathie Martin, a professor at the University of East Anglia and project leader at the John Innes Centre, who first introduced the anthocyanin-rich purple tomato in 2008. To create the fruit, Martin—who has been working with pigment production in plants for more than 20 years—used a genetic “on switch” from snapdragon plants—and saw promising results.
Not only did she and her colleagues find that cancer-prone mice that ate the purple tomatoes lived about 30% longer than those that ate normal tomatoes, but they later discovered that purple tomatoes had double the shelf life of red tomatoes.
On track to widespread distribution, the purple tomato is predicted to launch in the U.S. in 2023, according to Nathan Pumplin, the CEO of Norfolk Plant Sciences’ U.S.-based commercial business.
“This is fantastic, I never thought I would see this day,” Martin said in a statement. “We are now one step closer to my dream of sharing healthy purple tomatoes with the many people excited to eat them.”
We certainly can’t wait to try them!