I have always loved tomatoes, and since moving to Italy, the love has only grown deeper. I think it’s because I have been introduced to so many more tomato varieties, along with lots of great food with them included. You can use tomatoes in so many different ways, making them a really useful ingredient to have in the kitchen. You can add use them in sandwiches, salads, stews, soups, sauces, you name it! Read on and find out more about this juicy gem, from its origin, all the way to its nutritional content, uses, health benefits, and a few simple tasty recipes to encourage you to get cooking. Here’s to tomatoes, hooray!
What is a Tomato?
The tomato plant, botanically known as Solanum Lycopersicum, is a vine plant. The tomatoes that grow on the plant are its fruits.
A fruit is simply the seed-bearing part of flowering plants, basically formed from the ovary after flowering.
It’s interesting that a tomato is actually a fruit and not a vegetable. Even though the tomato is botanically a fruit, it is widely considered to be a vegetable in the kitchen. This is because it contains a lot less sugar than other fruits, giving it a less sweet taste that makes it great for savoury cooking, like vegetables. This makes sense, as tomatoes are not typically eaten as fruits, and serve more as “culinary vegetables”.#DidYouKnow Tomatoes are actually Fruits, even though they are used as Vegetables in the Kitchen #Tomato #FunFacts Click To Tweet
Where do Tomatoes come from?
Tomatoes come from Western South America. The Aztec Tribes were said to use them in their cooking very early on. Mexico is also said to be one of the first countries to start cultivating Tomatoes for cooking. It is believed that the Spanish Explorers discovered tomatoes in these areas while on their quests. The Spanish played a big role in spreading the tomato, sharing them with their colonies in the Caribbean, taking it with them to the Philippines which spread across Asia, and bringing it over to Europe.
Tomatoes grow particularly well in the Mediterranean climate and have become an essential ingredient in Spanish and Italian cooking. When I think of Italian cuisine, it’s difficult to imagine it without the tomato – What would happen to all those tasty Pizza Margheritas and Pasta Dishes?
In Italy, tomatoes were originally only used as decorative ornaments…
Tomatoes have an interesting story in Europe, particularly Italy. When they first arrived in Italy, they weren’t used for cooking at all. One of the main reasons is because a tomato plant belongs to the nightshade plant family, that often contains toxic elements. Many of the first tomato varieties were toxic and inedible. However, with the tomato’s amazing ability to mutate and create new and different varieties, the fruit produced many edible and delicious varieties to enjoy too. But, people were sceptical at first, and solely grew tomatoes for their beauty – Instead of for cooking, they were used as ornaments, displayed on the dinner table or grown in the gardens. How interesting is that?
Even the poorer peasant people didn’t give the tomato a chance at first, because of their low nutritional content. Tomatoes don’t contain a lot of carbohydrates, fat or protein, making them a less filling food source.
It was only later on, somewhere in the 1500’s that it was discovered that not all tomatoes were toxic and that they were actually a wonderfully tasty and versatile cooking ingredient. It was then that Italy took the tomato in with open arms, and since then it has become one of it’s most beloved ingredients.
When is Tomato Season?
Tomatoes prefer the warm spring and summer seasons for fruiting, but they are cultivated all-year-round.
Growing tomatoes throughout the year is made possible by using greenhouses, where you can control the temperatures and create the ideal climate. As mentioned above, tomatoes also have the ability to mutate and create new varieties, and so by using different cultivars (plant varieties) along with greenhouses, producers are able to produce tomato fruits throughout the year. The versatility of this fruit is quite amazing.
Tomatoes are now grown and eaten all over the world, with over 170 million tons produced every year. The top producers include China, India, Italy, Spain, Egypt and Turkey. Tomatoes are definitely one of the world’s essential staples, and here to stay in all shapes and sizes.
Fun Fact: There are over 7000 varieties of tomatoes in the world. Wow!#DidYouKnow There are over 7000 Varieties of Tomatoes in the world! #Tomato #FunFacts Click To Tweet
A Closer Look at the Tomato:
Now that we know a little more about this famed fruit, let’s go a little deeper. Read on and discover the Tomato’s nutritional content, uses and benefits, practical information, as well as links to some tasty clean recipes.
Read on to discover more about:
Tomato Nutritional Content
Tomato Uses and Benefits
Simple Clean Tomato Recipes
Tomato Nutritional Content:
A 100g of raw Tomatoes contains:
|Energy||18 kcal (74 kJ)|
|Dietary fiber||1.2 g|
|Vitamins||Vitamin A (5%) beta-Carotene (4%)
Thiamine (B1) (3%) Niacin (B3) (4%) Vitamin B6 (6%) Vitamin C (17%) Vitamin E (4%) Vitamin K (8%)
|Minerals||Magnesium (3%) Manganese (5%) Phosphorus (3%) Potassium (5%)|
|NOTE: The Vitamin and Mineral percentages above are approximated using US daily recommendations. For example: A 100g of raw tomato will give you 17% of the US Daily recommended amount of Vitamin C necessary based on this chart. Of course, this is never a definite, so use these percentages as a guideline, more to understand what Vitamins and Minerals you are getting for the foods you eat.|
|Lycopene||A pigment and phytochemical found in tomatoes and other red fruits and vegetables, such as red carrots.||2573 µg (micrograms)|
As you can see, tomatoes are low in calories, carbohydrates, fats and protein, making them ‘light fruits‘. If you’re wanting to lose some weight, these make for a great light snack instead of more sugary fruits.
Tomatoes are also a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Potassium, Magnesium and Manganese. They also contain Lycopene, a great antioxidant linked to a few health benefits, including heart health.
Something that really surprised me is their water content. Almost 95% of 100g of tomatoes is water, how crazy is that? I thought that a Coconut contained a lot of water at 46.9% for every 100g, but this is almost double that. Amazing.
Tomato Uses & Health Benefits:
|Eating:||Check out Recipes down below.|
|Tomatoes can be eaten in lots of different ways, raw and cooked, used mostly in savoury dishes. Add to salads, sandwiches, soups, stews, or simply eat raw. The options are endless.|
|Raw: You can enjoy tomatoes raw, as they are - Simply slice into pieces or wedges and dress with fresh Lemon, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, sprinkle with Salt & Pepper, and get eating! You could also skip cutting, and eat a big tomato like an apple - that's what I do! Enjoy 🙂|
|Salads: Tomatoes are great in salads, adding a fresh watery element. You can try all kinds of combinations. My favourites include a Tomato & Fennel Salad (finely chopped Fennel & Tomato, mixed with a finely chopped Clove of Garlic & dressed with Lemon, Extra Virgin Olive Oil & Salt), and a Homemade Caprese Salad (Tomato & Mozzarella Slices, topped with Fresh Basil, dressed with Olive OIl & sprinkled with Salt).|
|On Toast: Slice tomatoes and layer on brown wholegrain toast. Season with Salt & Pepper, enjoy! This is the very simple version, but you can add to this - You can lightly butter the toast, or add slices of cheese or canned tuna.|
|Soups: Tomatoes are one of the essential ingredients in soups, adding a little sweetness to the mix. I love making a Homemade Tomato & Fennel Soup, but I do also add tomatoes to almost all my other soups becuase the flavour is just yummy.|
|Stews: Tomatoes are a great addition to stews, and help bring the mix together when they soften.|
|Sauces: Tomatoes are used to make all kinds of tasty homemade sauces. A classic Basil & Tomato Pasta Sauce is a winner. A delicious Ragu with Tomatoe Paste added is also delcious. There are so many variations of pasta sauces you can make with a tomato sauce base, from vegetarian to meat to fish.|
|Juice: Tomato juice is delicious. It is rather intense and not for everyone, but with a little black pepper and even a splash of tobasco, you get a wholesome kick for sure! This is basically turning into a Virgin Bloody Mary 🙂|
|Bloody Mary: This must be one of the healthiest cocktails out there, made up of Vodka, Tomato Juice and other spices.|
|Tomatoes are great for the skin, so try out one of these 6 Homemade Beauty Products!|
|Skin Health: Tomatoes contain a good amount of Vitamin C and Lycopene, antioxidents that promote skin health. Tomatoes also contain a lot of water which hydrates the body and skin.|
|Heart Health: Tomatoes contain a good amount of Potassium, an essential mineral that is beneficial for blood pressure control and cardiovascular disease prevention.|
|Weight Loss: With tomatoes very high water content, they are perfect as a filling food when you're trying to loose weight. At the same time you're also getting nutrients.|
|Eye Health: Tomatoes contain a good amount of Vitamin A, Niacin, and other Vitamins that are great for promoting eye health.|
|Anti-Cancerous: The antioxidents in this fruit can help prevent unwanted cancerous behaviour in the body. Noteably it contains the immune-boosting Lycopene.|
As you can see, tomatoes are an essential ingredient with many uses and health benefits.
Tomatoes are easy to eat and cook with, giving you a ton of different ways to add them to your meals. Whether you chomp on them raw as a low calory snack or make your own tasty homemade basil & tomato pasta sauce. They are particularly useful when making pasta sauces, creating a wonderful wholesome base sauce that you can flavour with spices, herbs and proteins.
Apart from taste and versatility, this fruit also offers many essential health benefits. Great for the skin and eyes, and packed with antioxidising benefits. Getting rid harmful toxins is essential for overall health, so this antioxidant hero is a must eat!
|When buying Tomatoes, particularly the bigger ones, look for plump, heavy tomatoes. They should also have smooth skins, without bruises or blemishes. Use your judgement, and pick fresh hydrated looking tomatoes.|
|In general, storing your Tomatoes at room temperature is said to be better, as it is a more natural environment. The Fridge or No-Fridge is up for debate, but it just depends on how ripe your tomatoes are and when you plan on eating them. If your tomatoes are UNRIPE: leave them out of the fridge and out of direct sunlight so that they can ripen naturally. If your tomatoes are RIPE and you're planning on eating them in the next 1 or 2 days, leaving them out of the fridge is a good idea, as adding them to the fridge seems a little pointless unless you're particularly into cold tomatoes. If your tomatoes are VERY RIPE, adding them to the firdge is a good idea as they'll last longer.|
|You'll have to do your own testing. I personally store mine in the fridge as they last longer and I like eating tomatoes chilled, especially in the summer heat. Here is an interesting Serious Eats Tomato Article sharing a Tomatoes in or out of the fridge experiment - pretty interesting!|
I hope the above was useful.
Got any other tips to share? Please share below in the comments, would love to learn more.
Simple Clean Tomato Recipes:
- Italian Tomato Sauce for Pasta
- Tomato and Fennel Seed Soup
- Tomato and Fennel Salad
- Roasted Cherry Tomato Side
- Homemade Caprese Salad
I hope that this has inspired you to add a couple extra tomatoes to your next shopping basket. If you enjoyed this post, please share it. I’d love to spread the love for this tasty gem. Also, if you have useful information to share, please do so in the comments – I’d love to learn more!