There are literally hundreds of types of tomatoes, and most often we choose the ones we like in taste and aroma.
Tomatoes are a favorite vegetable of many people around the world. Did we say vegetables?
Botanically, tomatoes are classified as fruits that are similar in structure to raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries. But because they do not have the sweet taste of those listed, tomatoes were served not as a dessert but as an appetizer with vegetables.
So, today it is accustomed to say that tomatoes are fruits.
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The botanical name of the tomato is Solanum Lycopersicum, which, however, has recently been replaced by the more widely used Lycopersicon esculentum – the name of the plant whose fruit is the tomato. Tomatoes belong to the potato family (Solanaceae).
The French call it pomme d’amour (“love apple”), and the Italians – Pomodoro or “golden apple”, probably because of these varieties, which are yellow-orange in color.
The name doesn’t matter, because whatever it is, tomatoes remain a food that comes to us in a variety of types, sizes, shapes, colors, and flavors.
130 million tons are produced annually, and the largest producer is China (with approximately 61 million tons). Next in the ranking are India, the United States, Turkey, and Egypt.
Origin of tomatoes
Many people associate tomatoes with Italy, but in fact, their homeland is South America and more specifically the west coast of the continent and the Galapagos Islands.
Initially, the fruits of tomatoes were not like the modern ones we are used to, but rather small in size, similar to cherries (or today’s “cocktail tomatoes”). Centuries of selection have passed, during which the size has increased several times to reach today’s large specimens.
The cultivation of tomatoes did not take place in their homeland, but in the north (today’s Mexico), which is believed to be the origin of the name “tomato.” With the word “tomati”, the Aztecs called the red fruit when they introduced it to Spanish merchants.
Tomatoes arrived in the 15th century when conquistadors brought their seeds from Mexico to Spain.
Although they had spread enough back then, it took decades, and in some parts of Europe even centuries, to gain the fame of everyday food … and food in general.
The people who lived at that time were afraid of them and considered them unfit for eating because they belonged to the Potato family, which includes not only edible but also poisonous plants, and tomatoes were associated with their poisonous distant relative – bittersweet (Solanum Dulcamara).
Another reason is that they contain alkaloids – substances that in small quantities can cause side effects in more sensitive individuals. But in fact, the levels of alkaloid glucosides are so low that tomatoes are well received by most people around the world.
Types of tomatoes and tomato products
As mentioned, there are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes, including cherry tomatoes, pink tomatoes, plum-shaped Italian tomatoes, and more.
The sizes vary, as well as the shape. They can be round, flattened, oblong, pear-shaped, oval, heart-shaped.
By color, red tomatoes are most commonly used, but we also know of yellow, light orange, pink, and those that remain green even after ripening.
The taste of tomatoes is again diverse, depending on factors such as picking time, sugar and acid content, the texture of the flesh, the toughness of the skin, and more.
Tomatoes can be eaten raw or cooked in a jar/can, ketchup, or tomato juice/puree.
Nutritional composition of tomatoes
Tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene, but in fact, they contain a number of other phytonutrients that deserve attention – beta carotene, zeaxanthin, lutein, naringenin, kaempferol, quercetin, and others.
They are a good source of vitamin C and vitamin K, as well as moderate to low doses of pro-vitamin A and vitamin B9.
In 100 g of raw red tomato, there are 833 IU of vitamin A, 13.70 mg of vitamin C, 7.90 mcg of vitamin K1, 237 mg of potassium, and 24 mg of phosphorus.
Health benefits of eating tomatoes
The main health benefits are related to the specific content of antioxidants and in particular lycopene, and research examines the relationship between tomato consumption and the contribution to the health of the cardiovascular and skeletal systems, as well as in the prevention of prostate cancer.
The connection between tomatoes and the cardiovascular system lies in antioxidant protection (vitamin E, vitamin C, lycopene).
Consumption of tomatoes is also considered by research in the field of lowering bad cholesterol and triglycerides.
Another line of growing interest in tomatoes is the link to bone health, again due to its rich antioxidant content. In one study, all foods containing lycopene were eliminated from the diet of menopausal women for a period of 4 weeks.
At the end of the test period, the women showed signs of increased levels of oxidative stress in the bones, as well as unwanted changes in their tissue. More research is needed in the field to determine the exact amounts of tomatoes/lycopene that are of practical importance.
Consumption of tomatoes can help reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men and this is due to the content of alpha-tomatine.
A curious fact is that the bioavailability of lycopene increases by 25% when tomatoes are cooked for 30 minutes. This also applies to beta-carotene.
Health risks of consuming tomatoes
Possible manifestation of allergic symptoms from the consumption of tomatoes in people with chronic and active allergies.
Other risks are associated with the content of alkaloids, as mentioned in the origin of tomatoes. Excessive intake of alkaloids can have side effects, but in practice, this is difficult to do with tomatoes.
Interestingly, the content of alkaloids decreases in direct proportion to the ripening of tomatoes. Also, alkaloids are concentrated mainly in the leaves and stems, and not so much in the fruit itself.
How to choose and store tomatoes
Choose tomatoes with a rich color that do not have soft spots or ruptures. Avoid those that have damaged shell integrity. When shopping, inspect the tomatoes one by one.
Notice the color of the place where the handle was, in case it was torn off. If it is still white to green, then the tomato was picked seven to ten days ago. If it is green-brown, the tomato is two or three weeks old. If it is completely brown, then the tomato was picked green more than three weeks ago and stored in the dark to ripen slowly.
Tomatoes are sensitive to cold – low temperatures will prevent them from ripening. Store them at room temperature, away from sunlight. They will last about a week, depending on their degree of maturation. If you want to speed up this process, put them in a paper bag with a banana or apple – the release of ethylene will help them ripen faster.
In case you have too ripe tomatoes (overripe), but you do not want to eat them right away, then it is advisable to put them in the refrigerator, where they will be stored for 1-2 days.
Interesting fact: take them out of the fridge 30 minutes before using them – this will help for better taste.
Freeze whole and sliced tomatoes, as well as a tomato sauce for future use in cooking.
Sun-dried tomatoes should be stored in an airtight container, with or without olive oil, in a dry, cool place.
Ideas for using tomatoes
There are many ways you can include tomatoes in your diet – raw (salads, juices, purees, sandwiches and savory pancakes, burgers, etc.), baked (garnished with stuffing, stuffed, casserole, and skewer), boiled in water, or steamed (individually or in vegetable dishes).
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