It’s May, and that means that tomatoes are in season!
To help you to get into the tomato gobbling mood, here are some health benefits, interesting facts, storage tips and mouth-watering recipes that will tempt even the most committed anti-tomato palettes.
- Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant that aids in protecting against cancer, cardiovascular disease, and cell damage.
- A 3.5 oz. red tomato only contains about 18 calories but it also provides dietary fiber, potassium, protein, and vitamins A, C, and E.
Little Known Facts
- Though closely linked to Italian cuisine, tomatoes are actually native to the western side of South America, coming from countries such as Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru.
- Tomatoes are thought to be first cultivated in Southern Mexico by the Aztecs. The exact date of domestication is unknown.
- In the 1500’s Spanish explorers brought tomato seeds from Mexico back to Spain thus introducing them to the European populations.
- Botanically speaking, tomatoes are a fruit as they have seeds and grow from a flowering plant.
- For cooking purposes and per the 1887 U.S. tariff laws, tomatoes are classified as vegetables.
- They are a member of the nightshade family. Because of this classification, it took some time for the tomatoes popularity to grow as many people feared they were poisonous. This isn’t really a far-fetched idea, because even though the fruit itself is safe to eat, eating the stems, leaves, and vines could be harmful.
- China is the world’s largest producer of tomatoes, providing more than a quarter of the tomatoes grown worldwide. The United States and India come in second and third.
- There are over 7,000 varieties of tomato, the most popular are beefsteak, cherry, plum, and grape.
- If you place a ripe banana next to a green tomato, the tomato will ripen due to the ethylene gas produced by the banana.
- Pretty much all tomato varieties are red, however there are also other colors, including black, green, orange, pink, purple, and yellow.
Selection and Storage
- Choose tomatoes that are rich in color, and well-shaped with smooth skin and no wrinkles or cracks.
- There should be no bruising or soft spots.
- Choose the ones that do not have a puffy appearance as that indicates they may have inferior flavor.
- A ripe tomato will have a slight pressure to the touch and have a distinctly sweet fragrance.
- Tomatoes are susceptible to cold so they should be stored at room temperature and out of direct sunlight.
- Depending on how ripe they are when purchased, tomatoes will keep for up to a week.
- If you notice your tomatoes becoming overripe before you are ready to eat them, you can them place them in the refrigerator where they will keep for maybe one or two more days.
- Wash tomatoes under cool, running water and pat dry before serving.
How to Enjoy
Many people have a love/hate relationship with tomatoes. Some people love them and some people hate them, but even those who hate them often enjoy things like ketchup, salsa, and tomato sauce and in cocktails like Bloody Mary’s.
Here are some creative tomato recipes that can be found on Fill Your Plate. (For more, click on “recipes”, type in tomatoes, and a list of all our recipes with tomatoes will appear!)