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Black tomatoes hit London stores

Last updated on: March 02, 2004 16:23 IST

Black tomatoes are being marketed through London supermarkets this week in a bid to meet the Western consumer's insatiable demands for exotic products.

The black tomato, also known as a kumato, is described as "naturally sweet" and "juicy" and superior to its red counterpart.

Sainsbury's supermarkets, who are selling kumatoes, say it was first available more than 1,000 years ago in its native Galapagos islands and Latin America.

Its nutritional benefits, including antioxidant properties to help fight cancer, are also said to be similar to the red variety. Still untested are claims that giant tortoises of the Galapagos islands who still munch their way through tonnes of black tomatoes every year see the benefits through more regular mating exercises.

How the Indian housewife will react to the kumato is an issue for the future if and when the vegetable is introduced to the subcontinent. In London, a Sainsbury's spokeswoman explained that local consumer reactions were also impossible to predict.

"There is an initial barrier to selling them in that people might be put off by the colour," she said. "But they are super sweet and in blind tests amongst our staff against the red tomato, they won hands down."

Consumer analysts described the kumato as the latest in a line of designer foods gone mad. Last year leading supermarket chains in the British capital experimented with chocolate flavoured peas and pizza flavoured broccoli in a bid to encourage children to eat more vegetables.

Meanwhile, the world's biggest soft drinks manufacturer has come under fire in the UK for using purified tap water in its latest designer drink on sale at just under £1 per bottle.

Dasani is being promoted by Coca Cola as a "pure" product in the company's £7 million marketing campaign, whereas consumer watchdogs say it is nothing more than purified tap water from a factory in South-East London.

A spokeswoman for Dasani, who confirmed the company used municipal supplies, said, "We would never say tap water isn't drinkable. It's just that Dasani is as pure as water can get - there are different levels of purity.

"The source of the water is irrelevant -- it doesn't affect the end result. The reality is that whatever the source, the water goes through such a rigorous process of filtration that it is simply H20 before minerals are added back in for taste."

The UK Natural Mineral Waters Association begs to disagree. Its chairman, Ian Hall, has written to the Food Standards Agency calling for an investigation. "We don't think the public should have the wool pulled over their eyes," said Hall.

Shyam Bhatia in London