Tasting Tomatoes

Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum) are members of the Solanaceae or nightshade family, which also includes peppers, goji berries, tomatillos, eggplantpotatoes, tobacco, and petunias.

Tomatoes likely originated in the western side of South America, in the region occupied by Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and the western half of Bolivia. Wild tomato plants still grow in South America, as well as on the Galapagos Islands. At least one species was cultivated in southern Mexico by 500 BC. The first domesticated tomato may have been a small yellow fruit, similar in size to a cherry tomato, grown by the Aztecs of Central Mexico. Mayans developed larger, more irregularly shaped fruits.

Hernán Cortés may have been the first to transfer the small yellow tomato to Europe from the Aztec city of Tenochtítlan, now Mexico City, in 1521. After the Spanish colonization of the Americas, the Spanish distributed the tomato throughout their colonies in the Caribbean. They also took it to the Philippines, from which it spread to southeast Asia and then the entire Asian continent. Tomatoes grew easily in Mediterranean climates, and cultivation began there in the 1540s. They were mentioned by Italian physician and botanist Pietro Andrea Mattioli in 1544, when he wrote that a new type of eggplant had been brought to Italy that was blood red or golden color when mature and could be eaten like eggplant (cooked and seasoned with salt, black pepper, and oil). On October 31, 1548, the house steward of Cosimo de’ Medici, the grand duke of Tuscany, wrote to the Medici private secretary that the basket of tomatoes sent from the grand duke’s Florentine estate at Torre del Gallo “had arrived safely,” although tomatoes were grown mainly for decoration after their arrival in Tuscany. Tomatoes were grown in England by the 1590s. John Gerard, a barber and surgeon, wrote about them in 1597, and knew the tomato was eaten in Spain and Italy, although he believed it was poisonous. The tomato was considered unfit for eating for many years in Britain and its North American colonies.

The earliest cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692, although the author had apparently obtained these recipes from Spanish sources. In Florence, tomatoes advanced from tabletop decoration to cuisine in the late 17th or early 18th century. In 1710, herbalist William Salmon reported seeing tomatoes in what is now South Carolina. They may have been introduced from the Caribbean. By the mid-18th century, they were cultivated on some Carolina plantations, and probably in other parts of the Southeast as well. By the mid-18th century, tomatoes were also widely eaten in Britain, and before the end of that century, the tomato was enjoyed daily in soups, broths, and as a garnish. Thomas Jefferson, who ate tomatoes in Paris, sent some seeds back to America. The tomato was introduced to the Middle East and Asia by John Barker, British consul in Aleppo around 1799 to 1825. Tomatoes entered Iran through Turkey and Armenia, although the royal family may have been introduced to them in France.

Alexander W. Livingston wanted to develop smooth, uniform, tasty tomatoes. He introduced the first of over 17 hybrid varieties in 1870, and the fruit became fleshier and larger. Several states in the southern United States became major tomato producers, particularly Florida and California. Today tomatoes are enjoyed worldwide—to the tune of about 130 million tons per year. The largest tomato-producing country is China (with approximately 34 million tons of production), followed by the United States, Turkey, India, and Italy.

Tomatoes are a rich source of antioxidants. They provide an excellent amount of vitamin C and beta-carotene, a very good amount of the mineral manganese; and a good amount of vitamin E. They also provide a wide array of beneficial phytochemicals, including:

  • Flavanones that include:
    • Naringenin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and may be useful in preventing obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, and in reducing oxidative damage to DNA.
    • Chalconaringenin, from which virtually all other flavonoid skeleta are derived, that is, flavanones, flavones, flavonols, aurones, isoflavones, anthocyanins, and proanthocyanidin.
  • Flavonols (Flavan-3-ols) help support healthy circulation by helping your arteries stay flexible. They include:
    • Kaempferol, which has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, cardioprotective, neuroprotective, antidiabetic, anti-osteoporotic, estrogenic/antiestrogenic, anxiolytic, analgesic, and antiallergic activities. It is a strong antioxidant that helps to prevent oxidative damage of your cells, lipids, and DNA, seems to prevent arteriosclerosis by inhibiting the oxidation of low density lipoprotein and the formation of platelets in the blood, and acts as a chemopreventive agent, which means that it inhibits the formation of cancer cells.
    • Rutin, which can be helpful in maintaining rigid blood vessels, minimizes bleeding or bruising from injury, improves circulatory problems, including varicose veins and poor circulation, helps your body use vitamin C and maintain collagen, treats glaucoma, hay fever, hemorrhoids, oral herpes, cirrhosis, cataracts and glaucoma, reduces weakness in the blood vessels and the resultant hemorrhages, relieves pain from bumps and bruises, reduces serum cholesterol and oxidized LDL cholesterol, lowers the risk of heart disease, and can be useful in treating rheumatic diseases such as gout, arthritis, edema, hemorrhoids, and inflammatory bowel disease.
    • Quercetin, which may be beneficial for the treatment of cancer, heart disease, allergies, and other conditions.
  • Hydroxycinnamic acids, apart from coumarin, are all potent antioxidants which keep your body’s cells safe from harmful free radicals (dangerous substances that are released into your cells during oxygen-related reactions), act as anti-inflammatories (substances that prevent unnecessary inflammation within your body), keep your blood healthy, prevent cancer and much more. They include:
    • Caffeic acid, which is highly protective in your body and acts as an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, and may also prevent cancer and diabetes.
    • Comarin, which may act as an analgesic (a substance that relieves pain), an anti-inflammatory and an antisceptic (a substance that prevents the growth of pathogens), prevent arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats), cancer, osteoporosis (reduced bone mineral density), the human immunodeficiency virus (a virus that is often abbreviated to HIV and causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS), and high blood pressure, and protect the capillaries from damage and treat asthma.
    • Ferulic acid, which is a potent antioxidant that may also prevent bone degeneration and cancer, protect the skin from ultraviolet (UV) damage, reduce blood levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, reduce hot flashes associated with menopause, and treat diabetes.
  • Carotenoids represent one of the most widespread groups of naturally occurring pigments: There are over 600 known carotenoids that are largely responsible for the red, yellow, and orange color of fruits and vegetables. The carotenoids in tomatoes include:
    • Carotenes are a large group of intense red and yellow pigments found in all plants that photosynthesize, which are vital for the process of photosynthesis and also protect the plant against damage from the free radicals produced during photosynthesis. They include:
      • Alpha-carotene and beta-carotene, which protect your cells from the damaging effects of free radicals, provide a source of vitamin A, enhance the functioning of your immune system, and help your reproductive system function properly.
      • Lycopene, which protects your cells from the damaging effects of free radicals, and helps prevent the oxidation of cholesterol, thereby slowing the development of atherosclerosis.
    • Xanthophylls, oxygenated forms of carotenes, form the yellow color in plant leaves. They include:
      • Lutein and zeaxanthin, which defend your cells from the damaging effects of free radicals and protect your eyes from developing age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
  • Glycosides strengthen your immune system, protect against cancer and other free radical damage, and strengthen your capillaries. They include:
    • Esculeoside A, which fights tumors, osteoporosis, and menopause symptoms, and lowers cholesterol.
  • Fatty acid derivatives include:
    • 9-oxo-octadecadienoic acid, which regulates the metabolism of fat in your liver and can lower the fat in your blood, helping to prevent arteriosclerosis and cirrhosis.

Tomatoes can:

  1. Reduce your risk of heart disease: Your heart and bloodstream take oxygen from your lungs and circulate it around throughout your body. In order to keep this oxygen in check, your cardiovascular system needs ample antioxidants. Vitamin antioxidants like vitamin E and vitamin C provide critical antioxidant support in your cardiovascular system, and they are an important part of the contribution made by tomatoes to your heart health. The carotenoid lycopene (and a related group of nutrients) have the ability to help lower the risk of lipid peroxidation in your bloodstream. Lipid peroxidation is a process in which fats that are located in the membranes of cells lining your blood vessels, or fats that are being carried around in your blood, get damaged by oxygen. This damage can be repaired if it is kept at manageable levels. However, chronic or excessive lipid peroxidation in your bloodstream leads to a deployment of your body’s immune and inflammatory systems, and can lead to a gradual blocking of blood vessels (atherosclerosis) or other problems. Tomatoes also decrease your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. They also decrease accumulation of cholesterol molecules inside of macrophage cells. (Macrophage cells are a type of white blood cell that gets called into action when oxidative stress in the bloodstream gets too high, and the activity of macrophages—including their accumulation of cholesterol—is a prerequisite for development of atherosclerosis.) Many phytochemicals in tomatoes help regulate your blood fat levels, including esculeoside A and 9-oxo-octadecadienoic acid. The excessive clumping together of platelet cells can also cause problems for your bloodstream in terms of blockage and unwanted clotting, and prevention of this excessive clumping is important for maintaining heart health. Numerous phytochemicals in tomatoes have been shown to help prevent excessive clumping of our platelet cells. (This ability is usually referred to as an “antiaggregatory effect.”) In combination with their other heart benefits, this platelet-regulating impact of tomatoes puts them in a unique position to help you optimize your cardiovascular health.
  2. Support bone health: Lycopene (and other tomato antioxidants) may reduce oxidative stress in bones and prevent unwanted changes in bone tissue.
  3. Prevent cancer: Risk for many cancer types starts out with chronic oxidative stress and chronic unwanted inflammation. For this reason, foods that provide strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory support are often foods that show cancer prevention properties. Tomatoes can definitely help lower risk of prostate cancer in men. Alpha-tomatine is a saponin phytochemical that can alter metabolic activity in developing prostate cancer cells and trigger programmed cell death (apoptosis) in prostate cancer cells that have already been fully formed. Alpha-tomatine also has similar effects on non-small cell lung cancer, and it may also be useful in fighting pancreatic cancer. The carotenoid lycopene in tomatoes may reduce the risk for breast cancer.
  4. Prevent neurological diseases:  Diets that include tomatoes have been linked with reduced risk of some neurological diseases (including Alzheimer’s disease) in multiple studies.
  5. Prevent obesity: Tomato-containing diets have also been linked in a few studies with reduced risk of obesity.

Tomatoes are low in calories, very low in fat, and have zero cholesterol. They are excellent sources of antioxidants, dietary fiber, minerals, and vitamins. The antioxidants in tomatoes fight cancers, including colon, prostate, breast, endometrial, lung, and pancreatic tumors. Tomatoes, especially red tomatoes, are high in lycopene, an antioxidant. Together with other carotenoids, lycopene protects cells and other structures in the body from free radicals. Lycopene also prevents skin damage from ultra-violet rays and offers protection from skin cancer. Zeaxanthin is another carotenoid compound present abundantly in this vegetable. Zeaxanthin helps protect eyes from age-related macular disease (ARMD) by filtering harmful ultra-violet rays. Tomatoes contain very good levels of vitamin A, and carotenoid antioxidants such as alpha- and beta-carotenes, xanthins, and lutein. These pigment compounds are antioxidants that help maintain vision, mucus membranes, skin, and bones. Carotenoids also protect you from lung and oral cavity cancers. Tomatoes are also a good source of antioxidant vitamin C, which helps the body resist infection and destroy harmful free radicals. Fresh tomatoes are very rich in potassium and low in sodium. Tomatoes contain moderate levels of vital B-complex vitamins such as folatethiamineniacinriboflavin as well some essential minerals like chromiummolybdenummanganeseiodinecopperironcalcium, and other trace elements.

Nutrients in 1 Cup of Raw Tomatoes

Nutrient

Amount

DV

chromium

35.12 mcg

170.4%

vitamin C

22.86 mg

38.1%

vitamin A

1499.40 IU

30.0%

vitamin K

14.22 mcg

17.8%

potassium

426.60 mg

12.2%

molybdenum

9.00 mcg

12.0%

manganese

0.21 mg

10.5%

fiber

2.16 g

8.6%

iodine

11.52 mcg

7.2%

vitamin B6

0.14 mg

7.0%

folate

27.00 mcg

6.8%

copper

0.11 mg

5.5%

niacin

1.07 mg

5.3%

magnesium

19.80 mg

5.0%

vitamin E

0.97 mg

4.8%

thiamine

0.07 mg

4.7%

phosphorus

43.20 mg

4.3%

protein

1.58 g

3.2%

tryptophan

0.01 g

3.1%

choline

12.06 mg

2.8%

iron

0.49 mg

2.7%

calcium

18 mg

2%

zinc

0.31 mg

2%

pantothenic acid

0.160 mg

2%

riboflavin

0.03 mg

2%

Calories

32

1.6%

The sweet juiciness of a vine-ripened tomato defines the summer. Although tomatoes are available year-round across the U.S., some of the most delicious tomato flavors come from fresh tomatoes that have been planted in late spring or early summer and ripen from July through September.

Choose tomatoes that have rich colors. Deep reds are a great choice, but so are vibrant oranges, brilliant yellows, and rich purples. Tomatoes of all colors provide outstanding nutrient benefits. Tomatoes should be well-shaped and smooth-skinned with no wrinkles, cracks, bruises, or soft spots. They should not have a puffy appearance since that characteristic is often associated with inferior flavor and may also result in excess waste during preparation. Ripe tomatoes will yield to slight pressure and will have a noticeably sweet fragrance.

If you buy canned tomatoes, it’s better to buy those that are produced in the United States, as many foreign countries do not have as strict standards for lead content in containers. This is especially important with a fruit such as tomatoes, whose high acid content can cause corrosion to, and subsequent migration into the foods of, the metals with which it is in contact. BPA (bisphenol A) is an added component in the vinyl lining of numerous canned foods, and it’s also known to be problematic from a health standpoint because of its impact on estrogen metabolism. A recent study of canned foods in Canada has shown an average of about 1 ppb of BPA in canned tomato paste products (with a maximum amount of about 2 ppb), and an average of 9 ppb in pure tomato products liked diced, sliced, or whole peeled tomatoes (with a maximum amount of about 23 ppm). While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not set a limit on the amount of BPA allowed in canned tomatoes, the European Commission Directive for BPA has set a limit of 600 ppb. Look for a claim of “BPA-Free” on the label of your canned tomato products (or call the manufacturer) if you want to be sure that your canned tomatoes contain no BPA, because even some certified organic canned tomato products may contain—and are allowed to contain—BPA (through migration from the can).

According to the Environmental Working Group’s 2013 report “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides,” conventionally grown cherry tomatoes are among the top 12 fruits and vegetables on which pesticide residues have been most frequently found, so avoid cherry tomatoes unless they are grown organically. Organic varieties contain three times the more lycopene than non-organic.

Because tomatoes are sensitive to cold, and it will impede their ripening process, store them at room temperature and out of direct exposure to sunlight. They will keep for up to a week, depending upon how ripe they are when purchased. To hasten the ripening process, place them in a paper bag with a banana or apple, because the ethylene gas that these fruits emit will help speed up the tomato’s maturation. If the tomatoes begin to become overripe, but you are not yet ready to eat them, place them in the refrigerator (if possible, in the butter compartment which is a warmer area), where they will keep for one or two more days. Removing them from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before using will help them to regain their maximum flavor and juiciness. Whole tomatoes, chopped tomatoes and tomato sauce freeze well for future use in cooked dishes. Sun-dried tomatoes should be stored in an airtight container, with or without olive oil, in a cool dry place.

Fully ripe summer tomatoes are plump, heavy, red, and aromatic. If you can’t grow your own tomatoes, buy them at your local farmers market whenever possible. Look for the reddest, ripest tomatoes you can, but watch for bruises and blemishes. Tomatoes should be soft, heavy, and yield to the touch. Apart from the tomato’s physical appearance, smell is the best indicator of ripeness. Large tomatoes can be just as sweet and juicy as the small ones. When you do buy tomatoes from the grocery store, don’t get them from the refrigerated section, and don’t refrigerate them at home, because temperatures below 55 degrees destroy their flavor make them mealy.

Wash tomatoes in under cool running water and pat dry before use. To prepare, discard stem and top calyx end and cut into desired halves, cubes, slices, etc. Peel the skin and puree its juicy pulp.

If your recipe requires seeded tomatoes, cut the fruit in half horizontally and gently squeeze out the seeds and the juice. However, think about the recipe and consider whether the tomato could be incorporated with seeds intact. There are simply too many valuable nutrients in the seeds that you would not want to lose unnecessarily.

Slice tomatoes vertically for salads and sandwiches to prevent the juice and seeds spilling out. Aside from making tomato sauce, try broiling halved tomatoes topped with seasonings for 5 minutes. Or, halve some tomatoes crosswise, spritz them with a small amount of olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar. Put the tomatoes on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or 300 degrees for two hours. Roasting tomatoes concentrates their flavor. Enjoy your roasted tomatoes as a side dish or puree them for soups and sauces. Cherry tomatoes are great for sautéing. Mix the sautéed tomatoes with your favorite pasta. Or halve the tomatoes crosswise, scoop out the pulp and fill them with your choice of rice, couscous, chopped vegetables, polenta, mushrooms, or whatever else you like. Bake the tomatoes at 375 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. Place sliced tomatoes on top of a pizza. Make a tomato salad by slicing, chopping, or cutting your tomatoes into wedges. Add torn basil leaves and a light balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Make fresh salsa by seeding and chopping tomatoes, and combining them with garlic, onion, and peppers. Spoon the mixture on to a toasted baguette for bruschetta. Puree tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, and scallions together in a food processor and season with herbs and spices of your choice to make the refreshing cold soup, gazpacho, for summer. Or make a hot tomato soup for fall and winter. Basilmintcilantroparsleyoregano and thyme all complement the flavor of tomatoes well.

When cooking tomatoes, avoid aluminum cookware because the high acid content of the tomatoes may interact with the metal in the cookware. As a result, there may be migration of aluminum into the food, which may not only impart an unpleasant taste, but more importantly, may have a potentially unwanted impact on your health.

Whenever possible, try to develop recipes that make use of the whole tomato. There’s a higher lycopene content in whole tomato products. For example, when the skins of tomatoes are included in the making of the tomato paste, the lycopene and beta-carotene content of the paste is significant higher according to research studies.

Tomatoes are used extensively in cooking especially in Mediterranean, Greek, Italian, Southeast Asian, and East European cuisine. Raw ones have extra acidic taste, but when mixed with other ingredients while cooking gives wonderful flavor and rich taste. Regular as well as cherry tomatoes are one of the popular items in salad preparations. Unripe green tomatoes are used in many similar ways like other raw vegetables to prepare in curries, stews and to make “chutney” in some of the Indian subcontinent states. To make your own tomato paste, simply sauté a couple of cloves of chopped garlic and 1 or 2 large chopped onions for a couple of minutes until they are translucent. Add 8 to 10 chopped whole tomatoes and a teaspoon of dried—or several teaspoons of fresh chopped—oregano, basil, and any other herbs you enjoy (such as parsley or rosemary). Simmer for 30-45 minutes. Remove from the heat, and add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. For a fancier version, sauté chopped olives and mushrooms along with the garlic and onions.

Tomatoes are a great addition to bean and vegetable soups. Enjoy a classic Italian salad—sliced onions, tomatoes and Follow-Your-Heart vegan mozzarella cheese or tofu.

Add tomato slices to sandwiches and salads. To keep things colorful, use yellow, green and purple tomatoes in addition to red ones.

The following are ANDI scores for tomatoes:

  1. Tomato Sauce, canned 244
  2. Tomato Juice 225
  3. Tomato, raw 186
  4. Tomato, cooked 185
  5. Tomato Paste 174
  6. Tomatoes, packed in tomato sauce 153
  7. Sun Dried Tomatoes 124
  8. Ketchup, low sodium 92

This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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