The tomato is a member of the nightshade family and was thought to be poisonous. Actually the leaves are!
At one point it was considered a fruit to prevent taxation, but in the late 1800’s the Supreme Court ruled it was a vegetable and could be taxed accordingly. The U.S. passed the 1883 Tariff Act that required a 10% tax on imported vegetables. This law was challenged on the grounds that the tomato was in fact a fruit, not a vegetable.
In Nix vs Hedden, 149 U.S. 304, Justice Gray wrote, “Botanically speaking, tomatoes are fruits of a vine, just as cucumbers, squash, beans, and peas. .
The tomato has a brilliant history originating in the Americas, traveled to Europe and then returned to the Americas to create the tomato we have today. Lycopersicon Esculentum has become a staple in many cultures.
Today eight species of the berries are still located in Peru which contributes to what a Russian scientist, Vavilov, felt that to find the center of a crop species that you must find area where it has its greatest diversity.
The range of wild tomato relatives goes from the tip of Chili to Ecuador and inland almost 200 miles. They don’t tolerate frost. All members of the tomato family are hermaphroditic, while the cultivated tomato is self fertile and in-compatible with other members of this genus.
The tomato was called”xitomatl” by the Aztecs, while Central America tribes called it”Tomati”. Ancient Peruvian cultures don’t mention anything like a tomato as being an important part of their diet. The Aztec culture mentions dishes made of peppers, salt, and tomatoes. The cerasiforme variety keeps growing wild in Central America producing little, cherry size fruit on a vine.
Matthiolus composed in 1544 describing berries or”pomid’oro (golden apple)” and they have been consumed with oil, salt and pepper. This is encouraging evidence that the European tomatoes were of a yellow variety.
Carl Linnaeus in Germany came up with a title of Lycopersicon Esculentum which literally means,”edible wolf peach”. The English noted the tomato as early as 1596 as the Love Apple that was eaten abroad and described them as rank and stinking. A 1692 cookbook printed in Naples mentions tomatoes.
Several cookbooks in the early 1800s in America included recipes which included tomatoes. Tomatoes were sold in Boston’s Quincy Market in 1835. Four varieties of tomatoes were listed in Thomas Bridgeman’s catalogue in 1847 (cherry, pear, large yellow and large squash).
It is apparent that the tomato was firmly planted in western culture by the late 1800s. Heirloom varieties come in varying shapes, sizes and colours. Some are green, some have green stripes, some are rainbow colored, some are shaped like peppers, some are nearly black, some are darkish purple, some are cherry dimensions and some weigh over two pounds.
The balance between a good tasting fruit with a tough fruit tolerant to shipping is much desired by growers. Ripe tomatoes are soft and bruise easily, beginning to decline in quality in a few days. The chemical ethylene results in the berries to ripen and is created by the tomato as the seeds develop near completion.
Normally, growers pick tomatoes as the shoulders of the fruit shed their dark green colour allowing the tomatoes to be shipped while resisting bruising or rotting. Normally the tomatoes are red when they reach their destination or can be induced to ripen with the application of an ethylene spray. The flavor suffers because of this practice.
This was a huge blunder, since the public was not in favor of bioengineered products and has since been removed from the market.
The purported advantage of lycopene (responsible for the deep red color) was touted as an anti-oxidant, a molecule which wipes out free radicals that cause cancer in humans. Tomatoes are a great source of lycopene and several studies have confirmed that people who consume tomato products appear to have a decline in the risk of cancer.
Studies indicate that eating cooked tomatoes reduces the odds of cholesterol related heart problems and some cancers. Cooking tomatoes releases the lycopene from the skin of the tomato.
Tomatoes are ranked 16th among all vegetables and fruits as a source of vitamin A and 13th in vitamin C. They also contain significant amounts of lycopene, beta-carotene, thiamine, sodium, riboflavin, potassium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, and niacin.
Clearly the tomato is the single most important fruit or vegetable in the western diet in terms of a source of vitamins and minerals.
Not bad for a product that has been regarded as hazardous to ones health by many until the late 1800s.