The tomato is a member of the nightshade family and was thought to be poisonous. Actually the leaves are!
At one stage it was considered a fruit to avoid taxation, but in the late 1800’s that the Supreme Court ruled it was a vegetable and could be taxed accordingly. The U.S. passed the 1883 Tariff Act which required a 10% tax on imported vegetables. This law was challenged on the grounds that the tomato was in fact a fruit, not a vegetable.
But in common language. . These vegetables, which are grown in kitchen gardens, and which, whether eaten cooked or raw are, like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, celery and lettuce, usually served at dinner in, with or after soup, fish or meats which constitute the main part of the repast, and not, like fruit generally, as dessert.”
The tomato has a brilliant history originating in the Americas, traveled to Europe and then returned to the Americas to produce the tomato we have today.
Today eight species of the tomatoes are still located in Peru which leads to what a Russian scientist, Vavilov, believed that to find the middle of a crop species you must locate 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 the genus.
The tomato was called”xitomatl” from the Aztecs, while Central America tribes called it”Tomati”. Ancient Peruvian cultures don’t mention anything like a tomato as being an important part of their diet. The Aztec culture mentions dishes made of peppers, salt, and tomatoes. The cerasiforme variety keeps growing wild in Central America producing small, cherry size fruit on a vine.
Matthiolus wrote in 1544 describing berries or”pomid’oro (golden apple)” and they have been consumed with oil, salt and pepper. This is supporting evidence that the first European tomatoes were of a yellow variety.
The French called it the pomme d’amour (Love Apple). Carl Linnaeus in Germany developed a title 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 overseas and described them as status and stinking. A 1692 cookbook published in Naples mentions tomatoes.
Many cookbooks in the early 1800s in America included recipes which included tomatoes. Tomatoes were sold in Boston’s Quincy Market in 1835. Four varieties of berries were listed in Thomas Bridgeman’s catalogue in 1847 (cherry, pear, big yellow and large squash).
It is clear that the tomato has been 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 colored, some are shaped like peppers, some are almost black, some are dark purple, some are cherry size and some weigh over two pounds.
The balance between a fantastic tasting fruit with a difficult fruit tolerant to shipping is much desired by growers. Ripe tomatoes are soft and bruise easily, beginning to decrease in quality in a few days. The chemical ethylene causes the tomatoes to ripen and is created by the tomato as the seeds grow near completion.
Typically, growers pick tomatoes as the shoulders of the fruit shed their dark green color allowing the tomatoes to be sent while resisting bruising or rotting. The taste suffers because of this practice.
From the early 1990s, a bio-engineered tomato called’Flavr Savr” was introduced. This was a huge blunder, as the public was not in favor of bioengineered products and has since been removed from the market.
The purported benefit 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 great source of lycopene and several studies have confirmed that people who consume tomato products appear to have a reduction in the risk of cancer.
Tomatoes are cholesterol free. Studies indicate that eating cooked tomatoes reduces the odds of cholesterol related heart problems and some cancers. Cooking tomatoes releases the lycopene from the skin of the tomato.
Tomatoes are ranked 16th among all fruits and vegetables 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 in terms of 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.