Tomato Fruit or Vegetable?

Tomato Fruit or Vegetable?

Botanically the tomato is a fruit because it is a berry containing seeds. However, most people think of it as a vegetable, as it is usually eaten with the main course of a meal. This tasty food has a fascinating past.

Tomato History

In Mexico the Aztecs cultivated the tomato for food. During the early 16th century, returning Spanish conquistadores took it to Spain and, borrowing the Nahuatl word tomatl, called it a tomate. Soon Spanish enclaves in Italy, North Africa, and the Middle East were enjoying the new delicacy.

Later that century the tomato reached northern Europe. At first it was thought to be poisonous and was grown as a decorative garden shrub. Although a member of the nightshade family, with strongly aromatic leaves and stems that are toxic, the fruit proved to be completely harmless.

Likely this newcomer to Europe was yellow, since the Italians called it pomodoro (golden apple). The English called it tomate and later tomato, but the term “love apple” also became fashionable. From Europe the tomato made the long journey back across the Atlantic to North America, where eventually, during the 19th century, it became an important food.

Remarkable Variety and Popularity

Ask what color tomatoes are, and the answer will most likely be “red.” But did you know that varieties can be yellow, orange, pink, purple, brown, white, or green, and some are even striped? Not all are round. Some are flat or plum- or pear-shaped. They can be as small as a pea or as large as a man’s clenched fist.

This popular food is grown as far north as Iceland and as far south as New Zealand. Major producers are the United States and southern European countries. Cooler climates rely on greenhouse production, and arid regions grow the crop by hydroponic techniques—that is, in a nutrient solution without soil.

The tomato remains a favorite of the amateur gardener. It is easy to grow, and a few plants provide enough tomatoes to feed a small family. If you have limited space, look for varieties specially developed for patios and window boxes.

Hints and Health Tips

Cold temperatures impair the flavor of tomatoes, so do not store them in the refrigerator. To speed up the ripening process, you could set them on a sunlit windowsill or you could keep them at room temperature in a bowl with a ripe tomato or banana or in a closed brown paper bag for a few days.

Tomatoes are good for you. They contain vitamins A, C, and E, as well as potassium, calcium, and mineral salts. Researchers are discovering that they are also an excellent source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, which, it is suggested, lowers the risk of certain illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease. Tomatoes are 93 to 95 percent water, and weight watchers will be glad to know that they are very low in calories.

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