Sakata Seed America Launches New RuBee Tomato Series
WOODLAND, CA - The tomatoes my grandmother grew in her home garden were easily the best tomatoes I’ve ever had. It’s intensified my own appreciation for the category, especially those working within it to innovate new varieties. One such innovator is Sakata Seed America’s David Wolff, Senior Tomato Plant Breeder, who has patiently been working toward perfecting slicing tomatoes. Naturally, I had to find out more about the culmination of his efforts—the RuBee series.
“Back in 2018, we began by evaluating over 120 hybrids in Florida for flavor and horticultural performance,” David began. “Along with Tracy Lee, our Controlled Environment Agriculture Manager, we taste tested each variety in the field, and over the course of two years, we narrowed our selections down to the best flavors and the best horticultural traits like plant health, growing habit, early maturity, slice integrity, cracking resistance, fruit size, color, and setting ability. At that point, we selected eight to 10 hybrids that we felt had the most potential.”
Targeted for the home garden and farmer’s market producer, the RuBee series offers a stand-out flavor. The full line comprises RuBee Dawn, RuBee Goddess, RuBee Plus, and RuBee Prize.
“Each tomato offers differences in early maturity, size, plant habit, or color. The constant throughout the entire RuBee series is flavor,” commented Heather Kibble, Home Garden Manager. “Throughout our trials and taste panels, the RuBee series stacked up well against its competitors. We also conducted tests through Harry Klee’s Lab at the University of Florida, and Sakata’s varieties performed at the top of the class in terms of key sugars such as glucose and fructose, and important acids like citrate and glutamate.”
Research and taste panels favorably rank tomato flavor with high sugars (soluble solids) and acids that bring a balanced flavor.
David explained this by adding, “RuBee Dawn has excellent brix and citric acid, and low concentrations of malate (which registers as a negative for flavor). RuBee Goddess also is noted for high sugars, whereas RuBee Prize showed good brix and excellent citrate and glutamate (giving a strong umami ‘beefsteak’ flavor). RuBee Plus offers many of the same attributes, but in a larger fruit size.”
Over several growing seasons, Sakata conducted blind panel tests, and through those taste panels and product trialing, was able to craft four tomato varieties that matched the flavor profile and showed specific disease resistances that would prove to be beneficial.
“It was clear that we had identified some exciting hybrids that offered excellent flavor,” David noted to me. “The RuBee varieties were often better than current home garden standards in flavor and plant traits. Several improvements like better fruit firmness, less cracking, better size, and higher yield combined with a deep red color, gave us a superior tomato for the market. We were able to combine our experimental genetics that were developed for outstanding flavor with grower-friendly commercial lines. The resulting hybrids offer great flavor and will grow well under typical field conditions in the U.S.”
Heather also shared with me her insights on how the market has been receptive to the RuBee varieties.
“These tomatoes have striking color with early-maturing, large, flavorful fruit. Combined with their outstanding disease resistance packages, they can shrug off common disease pressures and have proven to be easy to grow in the home garden and farmer’s market segments,” she explained.
As most home garden varieties have minimal disease resistances, Sakata’s RuBee varieties offer a great value.
“Another goal for the RuBee series was to add more resistances while keeping the focus on flavor. We added fusarium crown rot (For), leaf mold (Pf:A-E), grey leaf spot (Ss), and late blight (Pi) within the RuBee line. The late blight is a devastating fungal disease that can wipe out a garden in 24–48 hours, so it was important to add that resistance,” David commented. “Our next iteration that we’re evaluating this spring will have added key insect transmitted virus resistances as well.”
Heather added, “These resistances will allow us to add significant value in the home garden segment to protect gardeners and consumers while differentiating Sakata’s hybrids in a crowded marketplace of available tomatoes.”
According to David, research and taste panels favorably rank tomato flavor with high sugars and acids that bring a balanced flavor, which is what makes RuBee such an attractive tomato.
“RuBee Plus offers many of the same attributes, but in a larger fruit size," he said. "We measured over 20 volatile compounds that are important in flavor, and these can be tracked and selected via genetic markers. The overall goal for future work is to combine multiple favorable gene alleles and reduce negative ones to maximize flavor. Our RuBee tomatoes have shown high levels of volatiles that are important in giving 'floral' notes for positive flavor perception and aroma.”
Heather concluded, saying that, “We are very proud of these tomatoes and the work that David Wolff and Sakata’s breeding team put into them. The RuBee series is a great example of how Sakata collaborates across disciplines and geographies to deliver unique varieties from around the world.”
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