Living in Spain, you cannot help but admire the beautiful Tomatoes on sale, especially those on the local markets. The Tomato is so adaptable in that it can be eaten raw, cooked, dried, in salads, soups, drink and in almost any savoury dish, which is surprising when it is actually classified as a fruit. They can be grown outdoors or indoors and belong to the nightshade family, although the plant is not poisonous.
The exact date the Tomato was used in cooking is unknown, but it was being cultivated in Southern Mexico by 500 BC. In 1544, an Italian physician, Pietro Mattioli wrote about the Tomato being used in cooking, but it was the Spanish who really introduced the Tomato into Mediterranean cuisine.
The Tomato’s ability to mutate and create new and different varieties helped contribute to its success and spread throughout Italy, although it was regarded as decorative rather than something to eat. They were not filling like other fruit and it was several hundred years before they were used for cooking and as dried Tomatoes and Tomato sauces in pizzas. They were not grown in the UK until the 1590’s when John Gerard brought some back from Spain, although he still thought that they were poisonous. By the mid-18th century, Tomatoes were widely eaten in Britain and they were appearing on markets and used by many cooks.
Alexander W. Livingston was the first person who succeeded in upgrading the wild Tomato, developing different breeds and stabilizing the plants in America. When he began his attempts to develop the Tomato as a commercial crop, his aim had been to grow Tomatoes smooth, uniform in size and with a better flavour. After many attempts, he picked out particular Tomato plants having distinct characteristics and heavy foliage. He saved the seeds carefully and the following spring he set two rows and to his surprise, each plant bore perfect Tomatoes like the parent vine. After five years, the fruit became fleshier and larger. He eventually developed over seventeen different varieties of the Tomato plant.
The poor taste and lack of sugar in modern garden and commercial Tomato varieties resulted from developing Tomatoes to ripen uniformly red. Most people grow red Tomatoes, but there are also yellow, orange, pink, purple, green, black, or white fruit are available. Multicoloured varieties and striped fruit can also be quite striking and plum-shaped Tomatoes are grown for canning. China is now the largest producer of Tomatoes, followed by the USA and then India.
Tomato varieties are roughly divided into several categories, based mostly on shape and size:
Slicing/Globe Tomatoes are the usual Tomatoes of commerce, used for a wide variety of processing and fresh eating.
Beefsteak Tomatoes are large Tomatoes often used for sandwiches. Their kidney-bean shape, thinner skin and shorter shelf-life makes commercial use impractical.
Oxheart Tomatoes can range in size up to Beefsteaks and are shaped like large strawberries.
Plum/Paste Tomatoes are grown with a higher solid content for use in Tomato Sauce/Paste and are usually oblong in shape.
Pear Tomatoes are based upon the San Marzano types for a richer gourmet paste.
Cherry Tomatoes are small and round, often sweet and generally eaten whole in salads.
Grape Tomatoes are smaller and oblong; a variation on Plum Tomatoes and used in salads.
Campari Tomatoes are sweet and noted for their juiciness, low acidity, and lack of mealiness. They are bigger than Cherry Tomatoes, but are smaller than Plum Tomatoes.
Tomatoes should be stored at room temperature to keep their flavour.
Tomatoes contain carotene, one of the most powerful natural antioxidants and cooked Tomatoes have been found to help prevent prostate and breast cancer and carotene has also been shown to improve the skin’s ability to protect against harmful UV rays. Tomatoes are also rich in Vitamin C.
Tomato plants can be toxic to dogs if they eat large amounts of the fruit, or chew plant material.