Tomatoes, whichever way you pronounce them, are botanically a berry. Having a lower sugar content than other edible fruits, in culinary terms tomatoes are often classed as vegetables. Though often thought of as bright red, tomatoes come in a wide range of colours including yellow, purple and nearly black. It is thought that tomatoes were domesticated as far back as 500 BC, although this now popular ingredient didn’t make it to North America until the 1830-40s.
An Introduction to Tomatoes
Tomatoes are a member of the Solanaceae family, along with eggplants and potatoes. Tomato plants grow up to 3 metres in height, with the average tomato fruit weighing approximately 100g. The part that we eat is the edible ovary of the plant, and both the leaves and the stem are inedible.
Tomatoes are now grown throughout the world, where approximately 4.8 million hectares of land has been dedicated to tomato production, with the Netherlands being the highest producer.
Varieties of Tomatoes
Around 7500 varieties of tomatoes exist.
These can roughly be distinguished in two main ways: determinate vs. indeterminate, and heirloom vs. hybrid.
Determinate and indeterminate tomatoes are distinguished by where the blossom grows. In determinate tomatoes, the blossoms grow from the end of the shoots which means that the shoots stop growing and once they have produced fruit they decline. In contrast, indeterminate tomatoes produce their fruit along the vine, which mean they can continue to grow until stopped by an external factor such as cold weather.
Heirloom tomatoes are generally considered to be of purer breed. They were developed using the method of only growing from tomatoes with the most desirable traits, whilst discarding the plants deemed to be lower in quality. Hybrid tomatoes are bred using the more up-to-date method of cross-pollinating different varieties.
Tomatoes are recognised to be extremely nutritious, and Alfred Vogel believed that ‘tomatoes that have fully ripened on the plant are wholesome and contain at least five different vitamins which are essential for the human body.’ In particular, they have a high vitamin C content. Additionally, tomatoes are very low in calories and fat, and contain no cholesterol.
18 kcal, 0.9g protein, 0.2g fat, 3.9g carbohydrate, 1.2g fibre
Many health benefits have been attributed to tomatoes, and many of these can be linked with the high anti-oxidants, vitamin and mineral composition of the fruit. High in vitamin C, tomatoes can help to boost the immune system, giving your body extra protection against colds and other viruses.
Tomatoes are also thought to promote good eye health. They are high in vitamin A, which is known to protect the retina and cornea. As well as this, tomatoes contain a flavonoid called zea-xanthin, which helps the eye to filter harmful UV rays.
Phytonutrients in tomatoes have been found to be linked with heart health. They have been found to lower levels of bad cholesterol, as well as preventing high blood pressure, or lowering high blood pressure. Additionally, tomatoes have been found to reduce inflammation, such as in the arteries, which reduce risk of heart disease.
High in fibre, tomatoes are good for digestive health. They reduce symptoms of diarrhoea and constipation by adding bulk to the stool and regulating bowel movements. Tomatoes have also been found to stimulate the release of digestive enzymes, improving digestion and absorption of nutrients.