The English word tomato comes from the Spanish tomati. The tomato is a member of the nightshade family and has been regarded as poisonous. Really the leaves are!
Is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable? At one point it was considered a fruit to avoid taxation, but in the late 1800’s that the Supreme Court ruled it was a vegetable and could be taxed accordingly. The U.S. passed the 1883 Tariff Act that required a 10% tax on imported vegetables. This legislation was challenged on the grounds that the tomato was actually a fruit, not a vegetable.
. All these vegetables, which are grown in kitchen gardens, and which, whether eaten raw or cooked are, like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, celery and lettuce, usually served at dinner in, with or after soup, fish or meats which constitute the main part of the repast, and not, like fruit generally, as dessert.”
The tomato has a colorful history originating in the Americas, traveled to Europe and then returned to the Americas to create the tomato we have now.
Today eight species of the berries are still located in Peru which leads to what a Russian scientist, Vavilov, felt this to find the middle of a crop species that you must find area where it has its greatest diversity.
The array of wild tomato relatives goes from the tip of Chili to Ecuador and inland nearly 200 miles. They do not tolerate frost.
The tomato was called”xitomatl” by the Aztecs, while Central America tribes called it”Tomati”. Ancient Peruvian cultures don’t mention anything like a tomato as being an important part of their diet. The Aztec culture cites dishes made from peppers, salt, and tomatoes. The cerasiforme variety keeps growing wild in Central America producing small, cherry size fruit on a vine.
Matthiolus wrote in 1544 describing berries or”pomid’oro (golden apple)” and they have been eaten with oil, pepper and salt. This is supporting evidence that the first European berries were of a yellow variety.
The early Spanish name for the tomato was pome dei Moro (Moor’s Apple). Carl Linnaeus in Germany developed a title of Lycopersicon Esculentum which literally means,”edible wolf peach”. The English noted the tomato as early as 1596 as the Love Apple which was eaten overseas and described them as rank and stinking. A 1692 cookbook published in Naples cites berries.
Many cookbooks in the early 1800s in America contained recipes which included tomatoes. Tomatoes were sold in Boston’s Quincy Market in 1835. Four varieties of berries were recorded in Thomas Bridgeman’s catalogue in 1847 (cherry, pear, large yellow and large squash).
It is apparent that the tomato has been firmly planted in western culture by the late 1800s. Heirloom varieties come in varying shapes, sizes and colors. Some are green, some have green stripes, some are rainbow coloured, some are shaped like peppers, some are almost black, some are darkish purple, some are cherry size and some weigh over two pounds.
The balance between a fantastic tasting fruit with a tough fruit tolerant to transport is much desired by growers. Ripe tomatoes are soft and bruise easily, beginning to decline in quality in a few days. The chemical ethylene results in the tomatoes to ripen and is created by the tomato as the seeds grow near completion.
Normally, growers pick tomatoes just as the shoulders of the fruit shed their dark green colour allowing the tomatoes to be sent while resisting bruising or rotting. Usually the tomatoes are red when they reach their destination or can be induced to ripen with the application of an ethylene spray. The flavor suffers because of the practice.
From the early 1990s, a bio-engineered tomato called’Flavr Savr” was introduced. This was a massive blunder, as the public wasn’t in favor of bioengineered products and has since been removed from the market.
The purported advantage of lycopene (responsible for the deep red color) has been touted as an anti-oxidant, a molecule that wipes out free radicals that cause cancer in humans. Tomatoes are a excellent source of lycopene and several studies have confirmed that people who consume tomato products appear to have a decline in the risk of cancer.
Studies indicate that eating cooked tomatoes reduces the likelihood of cholesterol associated with heart problems and some cancers. Cooking tomatoes releases the lycopene from the skin of the tomato.
Tomatoes are ranked 16th among all fruits and vegetables as a source of vitamin A and 13th in vitamin C.
Clearly the tomato is the single most important fruit or vegetable in the western diet concerning a source of vitamins and minerals.
Not bad for a product that has been regarded as hazardous to public health by many until the late 1800s.