The tomato – it doesn’t need any special introduction. Is well known across the globe, used in many traditional and modern cuisines. Many cooks couldn’t imagine life without it. Tomato plant originated in western South America. The Nahuatl (Aztec language) word tomato gave rise to the Spanish word “tomate”, from which the English word tomato derived. The Spanish discovered the tomato from their contact with the Aztec peoples during the Spanish colonization of the Americas, then brought it to Europe, and, from there, to other parts of the European colonized world during the 16th century.
China, India, the United States, and Turkey are the countries with the highest tomato production. In the European Union tomatoes accounted for 23% of total fresh vegetable output in 2014, with more than half coming from Spain, Italy, and Poland. There are so many ways to consume tomatoes! You can eat it raw, as part of a dish, sauce, drinks, salad, you can make it sweet, spicy even bake with it! The sky is the limit!
Did you know that you can easily grow tomatoes at home! You don’t even need a garden. You can plant them in a pot just from the seeds. Tomatoes need plenty of water and sunlight. Care for them well and in no time you will enjoy sweet, red, yummy fruits.
The usual pronunciations of “tomato” are /təˈmeɪtoʊ/ (usual in American English) and /təˈmɑːtoʊ/ (usual in British English).
Fruit vs. vegetable
Botanically, a tomato is a fruit. However, the tomato is considered a ‘culinary vegetable’ because it has a much lower sugar content than culinary fruits. This basically means, that you’d typically serve it as part of a salad or main course meal, rather than a dessert (although event that’s possible).
Did you know that bell peppers, cucumbers, green beans, eggplants, avocados, and squashes of all kinds (such as zucchini and pumpkins) are all botanically fruits, yet cooked as vegetables? This has even led to a legal dispute in the United States. US tariff laws imposed a duty on vegetables, but not on fruits, caused the tomato’s status to become a better of legal importance. The US Supreme Court settled this controversy on May 10, 1893, by declaring that the tomato is a vegetable, based on the popular definition that classifies vegetables by use.
What are the health benefits of tomato?
Tomato consists of 95% water, 4% carbohydrates and less than 1% of each fat and protein. 100g of raw tomatoes supply 18 calories.
Tomatoes also contain vitamin C (17% of the daily recommended amount) which is essential nutrient and antioxidant, potassium – good for blood pressure control and cardiovascular disease prevention, vitamin K – important for blood coagulation and bone health and folate crucial for normal tissue growth and cell function. It is particularly important for pregnant women.
Tomatoes are also known for having plenty of lycopene: a red pigment and antioxidant. Lycopene is the most abundant carotenoid in the ripened tomato and is found in the highest amount in the tomato peel. The rule of thumb is, the redder the tomato, the more lycopene it contains. Tomato products, such as ketchup, tomato juice, and tomato-based sauces, are the richest dietary sources of lycopene. The amount of lycopene in processed tomato products is often much higher than in fresh tomatoes. There is an increased amount of evidence showing that low blood levels of lycopene are linked to increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. Apparently, lycopene supplementation is also effective in lowering LDL cholesterol.
Tomatoes are considered beneficial for skin health. Tomato-based foods rich in lycopene and other plant compounds may protect against sunburn.
How many varieties of tomatoes are there?
There are around 7500 tomato varieties. They can be divided into categories based on shape and size:
- Beefsteak tomatoes – 10 cm or more in diameter, often used for sandwiches and similar applications. Their kidney-bean shape, thinner skin, and shorter shelf life make commercial use impractical.
- Plum tomatoes, or paste tomatoes (including pear tomatoes), are bred with a lower water /higher solids content for use in tomato sauce and paste, for canning and sauces and are usually oblong 7–9 cm (3–4 in) long and 4–5 cm (1.6–2.0 in) diameter. Not the best for fresh eating flavor but cook and freeze well.
- Cherry tomatoes are small and round, often sweet tomatoes, about the same 1–2 cm (0.4–0.8 in) size as the wild tomato.
- Grape tomatoes are smaller and oblong, a variation on plum tomatoes.
- Campari tomatoes are sweet and noted for their juiciness, low acidity, and lack of mealiness, bigger than cherry tomatoes, and smaller than plum tomatoes.
- Tomberries, tiny tomatoes, about 5 mm in diameter
While virtually all commercial tomato varieties are red, some cultivars produce fruit in blue, green, yellow, orange, pink, black, brown, ivory, white, and purple.
Did you know that to facilitate transportation and storage, tomatoes are often picked unripe (green) and ripened in storage with ethylene. Unripe tomatoes are firm. As they ripen they soften until reaching the ripe state where they are red or orange in color and slightly soft to the touch. Ethylene is a hydrocarbon gas that many fruits produce, which acts as the molecular cue to begin the ripening process. Tomatoes ripened in this way tend to keep longer, but have poorer flavor and a mealier, starchier texture than tomatoes ripened on the plant. They may be recognized by their color, which is more pink or orange than the other ripe tomatoes’ deep red, depending on variety.
How to store the tomatoes?
Tomatoes are best kept unwashed at room temperature and out of direct sunlight. It is not recommended to refrigerate them as this can harm the flavor. Tomatoes stored cold tend to lose their flavor permanently.
Tomatoes that are not yet ripe can be kept in a paper bag till ripening.
Tomatoes are easy to preserve whole, in pieces, as tomato sauce or paste by home canning. They are acidic enough to process in a water bath rather than a pressure cooker as most vegetables require. The fruit is also preserved by drying, often in the sun, and sold either in bags or in jars with oil.
What to cook from tomatoes?
Many different types of tomatoes allow for experimenting in the kitchen. There are many things you can make out of them.
The tomato is now grown and eaten around the world. It is used in diverse ways, including raw in salads or in slices, stewed, incorporated into a wide variety of dishes, or processed into ketchup, Marinara sauce or tomato soup. Tomato juice is sold as a drink and is used in cocktails such as the Bloody Mary. Also, you can make a tasty bread out of them.
How to skin a tomato?
There is a fun and easy technique to take the skin off the tomato.
- Just make an X on the bottom of your tomatoes and throw them into a pot of boiling water for no more than a minute.
- Fish them out and put under cold water.
- Lift them out, and peel back the skin. You can use a knife or just your fingers. It will go off very easily at this point.
Italian Marinara Sauce.
In case you wonder how to use and what to cook with skinned tomatoes, this recipe will be perfect for you. It is a super easy and very delicious Marinara sauce, which is perfect for any pasta, gnocchi dish or even pizza sauce.
750g of skinned ripe tomatoes
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
bunch of fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons of olive oil
Heat up a pan and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the diced onion and cook for 6-7 minutes or until golden.
Meanwhile, transfer the tomatoes to a bowl and crush them with a fork.
When the onions are ready, add the garlic and pour over with crushed tomatoes. Add few basil leaves, the bay leaf and cook for at least 1 hour or until the sauce is reduced. Stir the sauce several times during cooking.
Once ready add 1 tablespoon of olive oil into the sauce and a few chopped basil leaves. Season with salt to taste.
Transfer the sauce to the blender and blend for 30-45 seconds until you get a smooth sauce.
Serve with your favorite pasta, gnocchi or use as a pizza sauce.
1. Is tomato fruit or vegetable?
Botanically, a tomato is a fruit. However, the tomato is considered a ‘culinary vegetable’ because it has a much lower sugar content than culinary fruits.
2. Is tomato healthly?
Yes! They contain plenty of vitamin C, good fiber, as well as important lycopene. Additionally, tomatoes are low in calories (100g contain just 18 calories), so you can eat as much as you’d like.
3. My tomato overripe – is there anything I can do with it?
Yes, of course! Shake it up into Bloody Marry, make pasta sauce or ketchup. Overripe tomatoes are the perfect base for many dishes. Don’t be afraid to use them.
4. Which tomatoes are the sweetest?
Generally, cherry tomatoes are often considered the sweetest.
5. What’s the best way to keep tomatoes fresh?
You can store it on your kitchen counter at room temperature. Avoid washing them if you are not going to eat them immediately.