Tomatoes are such an important aspect of many, many cuisines in this world- but why? Tomatoes are originally native to Central America, and worked its way up to Mexico. From Mexico, the Spanish explorers brought the plant back to Europe. The Spanish believed the fruit to be poisonous, however some advocated believed it had aphrodisiac powers. The Spanish and Italians hailed the tomato in their culinary creations. The tomato made its way back across the Atlantic to America by the 16th century. Some cultures consider the tomato “the love apple”. These original tomatoes were 1/2 inch, or less.
Botanically, the tomato is classified as a fruit. It has seeds, and the fruit bears flowers before the fruit. But, because of its use in savory dishes, and the lack of sucrose, (sugar) many classify it as a vegetable. The U.S. government, for trade purposes, classifies it as a vegetable.
The tomato is a member of the nightshade family. It is the fruit of a vine, or creeping plant. Plants in the nightshade family have poisonous flowers, leaves, stems, etc. -everything but the fruit itself. On approximately September 26, 1820, Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson ate an entire bushel of tomatoes on the Salem, New Jersey courthouse steps. A crowd of thousands gathered to watch, and to see if he would be poisoned. He lived, and that proved to the Colonists, the indeed the tomato was not poisonous, or had evil powers, and help spread its popularity even farther. Once people realized it was harmless, it became one of the most popular of all vegetables. By the 1900’s the tomato was one of the most popular vegetables in America.
Fresh tomatoes are available year round, but their peak season is from June to September. The tomato needs warm temperature and lots of sun to grow. Normally tomatoes are picked green and left to ripen. The compromises the flavor. Tomatoes that are vine ripened have the best flavor, but are the most perishable. Tomatoes should be stored at room temperature. When tomatoes are exposed to cold temperatures, tiny enzymes with in the tomato that produce sugar and flavor are turned off forever, even if the tomato is brought back out to room temperature.
There are hundreds of tomato varieties. They are classified by their shape and size. They can be round, oval, globular, or square-ish in shape. Some are tiny, the size of a pencil eraser, and some are big, the size of an overgrown baseball.
Assorted cherry and grape tomatoes
Red and Yellow Plum Tomatoes
All tomatoes start out green, then ripen and gain color. Colors for tomatoes range between red, to yellow, to orange, to purplish, to white, or even a “ripe green”. “Green unripe” tomatoes are very acidic and contain solanine. This toxin is killed with cooking.
Tomatoes are high in acid. The acid can be controlled, especially when cooking, by adding sugar, or a small amount of honey. You should avoid cooking tomatoes in aluminum pots. The acid in the tomato reacts with the metal, giving it a metallic flavor.
Tomatoes are high in vitamin C, folic acid, and Vitamin A. They are used to stimulate the appetite, combat scurvy, cleanse body of toxins and re-mineralize, and are a diuretic. Tomatoes can be cooked in every possible way, and when they are ripe, they can be eaten raw.
Lots of Tomatoes!!!
Red and Yellow Beefsteak tomatoes “sandwich tomatoes”
Evergreen (yes- this is ripe)
© 2012 Chef Jennifer M. Denlinger All rights reserved
Cite me: Denlinger, J. (2012, June 7). Tomatoes. Retrieved from: FloridaChef.net