The tomato is a member of the nightshade family and was thought to be poisonous. Really the leaves are!
Is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable? At one point 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 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. .
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 tomatoes are still located in Peru which contributes to what a Russian scientist, Vavilov, felt that to find the middle of a crop species you must find area where it has its greatest diversity.
The array of wild tomato relatives goes from the tip of Chili to Ecuador and inland nearly 200 miles. They don’t tolerate frost.
The tomato was known as”xitomatl” by 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 cites dishes made of peppers, salt, and tomatoes. The cerasiforme variety keeps growing 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 have been eaten with oil, pepper and salt. This is supporting evidence that the European tomatoes were of a yellow selection.
Carl Linnaeus in Germany developed a name of Lycopersicon Esculentum which literally means,”edible wolf peach”. The English noted that the tomato as early as 1596 as the Love Apple that was eaten abroad and described them as rank and stinking. A 1692 cookbook printed in Naples mentions tomatoes.
Several cookbooks in the early 1800s in America included recipes which included tomatoes. Tomatoes were offered in Boston’s Quincy Market in 1835. Four varieties of berries were recorded in Thomas Bridgeman’s catalog in 1847 (cherry, pear, large 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 coloured, some are shaped like peppers, some are nearly black, some are darkish purple, some are cherry size and some weigh over two pounds.
The balance between a good tasting fruit with a tough fruit tolerant to shipping is much wanted by growers. Ripe berries are tender and bruise easily, starting to decline in quality in a couple of 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 lose their dark green colour allowing the tomatoes to be sent while resisting bruising or rotting. The flavor suffers because of this practice.
From the early 1990s, a bio-engineered tomato called’Flavr Savr” was introduced. This was a huge blunder, since the public wasn’t 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 which 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 seem to have a reduction in the risk of cancer.
Studies indicate that eating cooked tomatoes reduces the likelihood 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 in the western diet in terms of a source of vitamins and minerals.
Not bad for a product that was regarded as hazardous to public health by many before the late 1800s.