A long-term comparison of the influence of organic and conventional crop management practices on the content of the glycoalkaloid α-tomatine in tomatoes


Correspondence to: Alyson E Mitchell, Department of Food Science and

Technology, One Shields Avenue, University of California Davis, Davis, CA

95616, USA. E-mail: aemitchell@ucdavis.edu



α-Tomatine, synthesized by Lycopersicon and some Solanum species, is a steroidal glycoalkaloid which functions to protect against pathogens and insects. Although glycoalkaloids are generally considered toxic, α-tomatine appears to be well tolerated in humans. α-Tomatine has numerous potential health benefits including the ability to inhibit cancer cell growth in in vitro studies. α-Tomatine is influenced by numerous agronomic factors including fertilization and nitrogen availability. Herein, the levels of α-tomatine were compared in dried tomato samples (Lycopersicon esculentum L. cv. Halley 3155) produced in organic and conventional cropping systems that had been archived over the period from 1994 to 2004 from the Long Term Research on Agricultural Systems project (LTRAS) at UC Davis.


The α-tomatine levels of tomatoes in both cropping systems ranged from 4.29 to 111.85 µg g−1 dry weight. Mean levels of α-tomatine were significantly higher in the organically grown tomatoes than conventional ones (P < 0.001). In the organic management system, α-tomatine content was also significantly (P < 0.001) different between cropping years, suggesting that other influencing factors such as environmental conditions also affect α-tomatine content in tomato.


The organically produced tomatoes had higher average α-tomatine content than their conventional counterpart over the 10-year study. Significant annual variability in the α-tomatine content in tomatoes was also observed and suggests that environmental factors, external to nitrogen fertilization, influence α-tomatine content in tomatoes. © 2012 Society of Chemical Industry