• Related to the potato, capsicum and eggplant.
  • Botanically a fruit, but generally used as a vegetable.
  • Thin edible skin.
  • Very juicy flesh.
  • Small edible seeds.
  • Grow on a weak stemmed herbaceous plant.
  • Yellow flowers which grow in clusters.
  • Grown either on a vine or a bush.

Fresh tomatoes are an ideal salad vegetable, served sliced or cut in wedges, either alone or in combination with lettuce, asparagus, celery, cucumbers and onions. It is a standard item in sandwiches, delectable in soups, stews and casseroles and the base for many delightful sauces and dressings. They also make an excellent hot side vegetable. Wonderful when used in traditional Italian dishes and also with Mexican dishes such as tacos, tostadas and enchiladas.

The tomato is a warm-season plant which is reasonably resistant to heat and drought, and grows under a wide range of climatic and soil conditions. Tomatoes grow best when the day temperature is between 15-30°C. Tomatoes must have full sun and need warm, well drained, fertile soil. A tomato plant requires 3-4 months from the time of planting to produce the first ripe fruit.

The tomato thrives best when the weather is clear and rather dry and temperatures are uniformly moderate. If temperatures are too high with accompanying high humidity, foliage disease often results. Quality is strongly influenced by temperature. Hot drying winds also affect the plant, causing the flowers to drop, therefore reducing the quantity of fruit.

The tomato is native to the Peru-Bolivia and Ecuador areas of the Andes Mountains. The tomato must have been cultivated for a great while before the discovery of America by the Spanish, because the tomato was improved far beyond the wild state by that time.

The cultivated tomato probably was carried northward into Central America and Mexico by Indians. For centuries it has been a major ingredient in Mexican cooking.

The earliest recorded mention of tomatoes is by an Italian in 1554, who called them “apples of gold”, referring to a yellow tomato. It was not until 1695 that the term tomato was adopted broadly.

In 1656, the tomato was cultivated in England for ornamental purposes and curiosity only, as it was frequently said to be poisonous. Yet in France, it was termed the “love apple” and presented as a token of affection. By 1752 the fruit was used in England, especially in soups.

Interesting Facts and Myths?

Oranges, lemons, watermelons, and tomatoes are berries.

The Pilgrim Fathers considered growing tomatoes an abomination – equal to dancing, card-playing and theatre-going. Those caught with the fruit were often displayed in the public square and ridiculed!

Tomatoes were originally thought to be poisonous.

“A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins” Laurie Colwin, Home Cooking.

“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a home-grown tomato.” Lewis Grizzard.

Today’s gardeners are always trying to grow the biggest tomato, watermelon or pumpkin. Back in the 1800’s the prize of every gardener was a gigantic turnip. Fifteen-kilogram monsters were quite common and a grower in California was said to have grown a turnip of over 45 kilograms in 1850.

The tomato is the most popular home-garden plant. Over 90% of all home gardeners cultivate tomatoes in their garden. There are currently over 500 tomato varieties on the market. As with many fruits and vegetables, tomatoes should be consumed fairly soon after picking, as their sugar content decreases in storage.

Are tomatoes a fruit or a vegetable? Any edible plant part that contains seeds is considered a fruit, so that means tomatoes are a fruit. The confusion persists largely because cookbooks persist in listing the tomato as though it is a vegetable.

There are at least 10,000 varieties of tomatoes.

Botanical Name: Lycopersicon esculentum (Solanaceae)

Health Benefits

An excellent source of vitamin C, a useful source of vitamin E, with some vitamin A and dietary fibre.

100g of tomatoes yields the following:

  • Calories – 18
  • Total Carbs – 1% of DV
  • Protein – 0.88g
  • Dietary Fibre – 5% of DV
  • Vitamin A – 17% of DV
  • Vitamin C – 21% of DV
  • Calcium – 1% of DV
  • Iron – 2% of DV

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Selecting tips

Select tomatoes that are firm, well formed, bright, of uniform colour, and free from blemishes.

Storage: Ripen at room temperature then store in the refrigerator crisper.

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