By Marilyn Puett
It is bright red, plump, juicy and grows in gardens around the world. However you serve it, the tomato is the world's most popular fruit. Yes, in strictly botanical terms, it is not a vegetable at all. This is because a fruit is defined as the edible part of a plant that contains seeds and well... that's a tomato. However in 1893, the Supreme Court ruled in NIX v HEDDEN, a case involving import duties, that tomatoes were to be considered vegetables. Regardless, more than sixty million tons of them are produced worldwide each year. And in case you're wondering, the next most popular fruits are bananas, apples, oranges and watermelons in that order.
The tomato was first cultivated in Central America in 700 A.D. by the Aztecs and Incas. When Cortez and his Conquistadors reached the area in the sixteenth century, they discovered the “tomatl” and took seeds back to Europe where they were quickly assimilated into the cuisine of Spain, Portugal and Italy. The Italians considered the tomato an aphrodisiac and gave it the name “poma amoris” or love apple.
The tomato traveled north on the continent and eventually made its way to England where it was declared poisonous. This same myth held favor in the American colonies as well until Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson stood on the Salem, New Jersey courthouse steps on September 26, 1820 and took a big bite of a love apple. And another and another until he'd eaten an entire basket of them to the astonishment of a shocked crowd. Around this same time, Creoles in New Orleans, many of whom were of Spanish or Portuguese descent, began using the tomato in gumbo and jambalaya. Soon after, the flavorful commodity made its way into seafood dishes in Maine. According to a 1997 study, sixty-eight percent of chefs use canned tomatoes for cooking either for flavor, convenience or quality.
Tomatoes belong to the deadly nightshade family and are a cousin to the eggplant, potato, tobacco and red pepper. The relationship to nightshade gave rise to the rumors of toxicity. Some even claimed they caused conditions such as appendicitis, “brain fever” (commonly known as meningitis) and cancer.
Today scientists all over the world are studying the tomato, and recommending its consumption, for its health benefits. Low in calories, absent of fat and cholesterol, and low on the glycemic index, tomatoes are a rich source of vitamins A and C, folic acid, potassium, fiber and lycopene. more >>