Our friends and former colonial rulers across the pond are going bonkers for the TomTato, a new type of tomato and potato-yielding plant. Longstanding British seed company Thompson and Morgan rolled out the new variety last week, the first of its kind to be made commercially available to the public. But as much as the TomTato looks like something ripped from an anti-GMO nightmare, it actually isn’t genetically engineered at all.
The TomTato has roots that go back more than a century in English gardens, according to the plant’s product developer Michael Perry. Hitching a tomato plant to a potato plant comes about from a common process called grafting, in which the tissues of one plant are severed and attached to another. Rosebuds, for example, are often grafted onto the rootstocks of other, stronger, rose plants. Home gardeners with lots of time to experiment “can do it literally with a piece of plaster or tape,” Perry says.
The TomTato, however, took a full 15 years to perfect. Part of the trouble was finding the right varieties of tomato and potato to meet at the stem. A potato’s stem can be particularly thick, while tomatoes tend to be more fragile. But in its current incarnation, the TomTato combines a mid-season tomato plant with a late-season potato–and it can boast up to 500 sweet, cherry-sized tomato fruits per plant, according to Perry.
“What started out as a novelty in our minds has become something much more useful to the gardener,” Perry says. “It’s space saving. You don’t need a vegetable patch. You can put potatoes on the patio, and that’s a relatively new development.”
Now that Thompson and Morgan have the TomTato down, the company also plans on exploring other potted mutants. Perry didn’t want to go into too much detail about those plans, but slyly noted that that eggplants are also in the same plant family and could be interesting to explore.
“It’s not just ‘Oh, let’s grow a tomato and a potato,’” Perry says. “[This is] not going to be one of those gimmick plants that you grow one year and don’t grow the next.”
Gimmick or not, cheers to Frankenfoods that don’t create a mass of herbicide resistant weeds, contain obtuse patent language, and aren’t actually that freaky at all. TomTato, we approve of you.