The English word tomato comes from the Spanish tomati. The tomato is a member of the nightshade family and has been thought to be poisonous. Actually the leaves are!
Is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable? At one stage it was considered a fruit to prevent taxation, but in the late 1800’s that the Supreme Court ruled it was a vegetable and may be taxed accordingly. The U.S. passed the 1883 Tariff Act which required a 10% tax on imported vegetables. This legislation was challenged on the grounds that the tomato was actually a fruit, not a vegetable.
In Nix vs Hedden, 149 U.S. 304, Justice Gray wrote, “Botanically speaking, tomatoes are fruits of a vine, just as cucumbers, squash, beans, and peas. But in common language. .
The tomato has a brilliant history originating in the Americas, traveled to Europe and then returned to the Americas to create the tomato we have now. Lycopersicon Esculentum has become a staple in many cultures.
Nowadays eight species of the berries are still located in Peru which leads to what a Russian scientist, Vavilov, believed this to find the middle of a crop species that you must find area where it has its greatest diversity.
The range of wild tomato relatives goes from the tip of Chili to Ecuador and inland almost 200 miles. The fruits of the wild tomato species are small. They don’t tolerate frost. All members of the tomato family are hermaphroditic, while the cultivated tomato is self fertile and in-compatible with other members of this genus.
The tomato was known as”xitomatl” by the Aztecs, while Central America tribes called it”Tomati”. Ancient Peruvian cultures fail to 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 continues to grow wild in Central America producing little, cherry size fruit on a vine.
Matthiolus wrote in 1544 describing tomatoes or”pomid’oro (golden apple)” and they were consumed with oil, salt and pepper. This is encouraging evidence that the European berries were of a yellow selection.
Carl Linnaeus in Germany came up with a name of Lycopersicon Esculentum which literally means,”edible wolf peach”. The English noted the tomato as early as 1596 as the Love Apple that was eaten abroad and explained them as status and stinking. A 1692 cookbook published in Naples cites berries.
Many cookbooks in the early 1800s in America contained recipes that included tomatoes. Tomatoes were offered in Boston’s Quincy Market in 1835. Four varieties of tomatoes were recorded in Thomas Bridgeman’s catalog in 1847 (cherry, pear, large yellow and large squash).
It’s apparent that the tomato was firmly planted in western culture by the late 1800s. Heirloom varieties come in varying shapes, sizes and colours. 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 good tasting fruit with a difficult fruit tolerant to shipping is much desired by growers. Ripe berries are tender and bruise easily, beginning to decrease in quality in a few days. The chemical ethylene causes the berries to ripen and is created by the tomato as the seeds develop near completion.
Normally, growers pick tomatoes just as the shoulders of the fruit shed their dark green colour allowing the tomatoes to be shipped while resisting bruising or rotting. The taste suffers because of the practice.
In 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 those who consume tomato products appear to have a reduction in the risk of cancer.
Studies indicate that eating cooked tomatoes reduces the odds 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 vegetables and fruits as a source of vitamin A and 13th in vitamin C.
Clearly the tomato is the single most important fruit or vegetable from the western diet concerning a source of minerals and vitamins.
Not bad for a product that has been regarded as hazardous to ones health by many until the late 1800s.