This summer favorite originated in Central and South America and then traveled the world after the Spanish explorers landed in these areas. The Spanish introduced the plant not only to Caribbean islands but also to the Philippines. The tomato has a long history of cultivation among many different civilizations.
Historical records indicate that the Aztecs and other Mesoamerica cultures were cultivating tomatoes earlier than 500 BC. In their native habitats, tomatoes exist as a vining plant that grows along the ground; it’s only rather recently that tomato cages were invented to encourage the plant to climb upwards.
Tomato Color, Shape, Size, and Taste
Over its centuries of cultivation, hundreds of tomato varieties have emerged. Tomatoes can range widely in size from grapes to hefty “Big Boys” as well as in color. Tomatoes truly come in a rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, purple, and may offer a combination of colors in their stripped varieties.
Different varieties not only offer different acid levels but are intended for different culinary purposes. Some tomatoes are inherently better of sauces while others are better for slicing and eating directly.
Tomato Nutrition Facts
One cup of chopped tomatoes, or 180 grams, equals a single serving for tomatoes. This serving size offers 32 calories, which makes tomatoes a calorie-light food, excellent food for weight loss or weight maintenance.
Within these 32 calories are 7 grams of carbohydrates including 2 grams of dietary fiber and 5 grams of sugar. At this serving tomatoes also offer 2 grams of protein.
Health Benefits – Vitamins Found In Tomatoes
Tomatoes are a solid source for several vitamins including vitamins A, C, and K. Eating three daily servings of tomatoes would take care of the body’s need for both vitamins A and C.
Vitamin A helps maintain visual health as well as assisting cell growth throughout the body; it can also boost the immune system. Vitamin C is highly regarded for its ability to both support and strengthen the immune system; it also acts as an antioxidant in the body, rounding up free radicals before they can cause havoc.
Vitamin K plays a crucial role in bone health; it is a key ingredient enabling blood to clot.
Tomatoes also contain lesser amounts of vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, folate, and pantothenic acid. Although not in significant amounts, most of the B-complex vitamins are present, and they are all key players in helping the body metabolize energy.
Health Benefits – Minerals Found In Tomatoes
Although tomatoes are not a significant source of anyone mineral, they do offer a rather complete mineral profile. Potassium is available at 12% of the RDA per serving, followed by Manganese at 10%.
The following minerals are present, but at 5% or less of the RDA: magnesium, copper, zinc, phosphorus, iron, and calcium. Potassium is a mineral key to regulating normal blood pressure levels.
It is also a significant fact in maintaining the health of the kidneys. Manganese, on the other hand, helps the body produce strong bones and collagen, which promotes healthy skin.
Health Benefits – Other Compounds Found In Tomatoes
While tomatoes are a decent source for both vitamins and minerals, their real nutritional value exists within their “other compounds”. Many recent studies support the anti-cancer aspects of diets rich in tomatoes. This food is rich in lycopene, which is a very important antioxidant within the body.
Diets weak in lycopene show a heightened risk of osteoporosis. Although the lycopene amount may vary from variety to variety, recent research suggests that orange tomatoes may offer the highest amounts.
This is new information as lycopene was previously thought to only exist in red tomatoes. Some studies show links between lycopene consumption and lower risk of certain cancers as well.
Lycopene is a type of carotenoid; tomatoes also contain other carotenoids including lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene. This summer favorite is also rich in several phytonutrients which promote heart health, including the ability to lower LDL or the bad cholesterol.
Tomatoes should feel heavy for their size; there should be a heftiness to them. They should appear to fully fill-out their shape, but not be super soft. The thin skin should be a little taut; skin that appears wrinkled suggests that the tomato is close to expiring.
The skin should be free from discoloration or bruising; however, keep in mind that many tomato varieties are multi-colored. Look for tomatoes with their stem still attached; this helps them last longer off the vine.
How To Store Tomatoes
Tomatoes prefer the cool and dark — however, not in the refrigerator. As a tropical vine, tomatoes are adverse to very cold temperatures. Counter storage is fine if you plan to eat them within the next few days.
To ripen unripe tomatoes, place them in a brown paper bag (like peaches) and give them a day or two. They’ll be ripe in no time.
Tomato Serving Suggestions
Ripe tomatoes may be sliced and enjoyed on any number of cold sandwiches, or hot sandwiches such as burgers. During the height of tomato season, many people enjoy simple tomato sandwiches! Many people enjoy them diced with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper.
They may be sliced and paired with fresh mozzarella and basil, drizzled with a bit of balsamic dressing for a taste of an Italian favorite. Gardeners often find themselves besieged with tomatoes and make tomatoes stuffed with rice and herbs.
They can also be added to soups and stews, or blended cold to create a Spanish staple: Gazpacho. Gazpacho is a cold soup that includes tomatoes, onions, peppers, and traditional seasonings.
It can be eaten from a bowl or enjoyed from a glass. Consider creating homemade tomato sauce for Italian dishes such as spaghetti or lasagna. Tomatoes can also be juiced along with a bit of salt and other preferred vegetables—make a homemade V8. And don’t forget about fresh salsas!
Five Fun Tomato Facts
1 – There are over 7,500 known varieties of tomatoes.
2 – The current English word tomato is derived from the Spanish tomate, which originated from the Aztec tomatl.
3 – The tomato plant belongs in the nightshade family.
4 – Scholars are unsure if it was Christopher Columbus or Hernan Cortes who introduced tomatoes first to the Spanish court.
5 – China currently produces the most tomatoes in the world, followed by India and then the United States.