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All About Tomatoes
Tomatoes are one of our favorite vegetables that are technically fruits. I always loved this argument growing up, but after truly being able to understand science (and the federal court ruling) I’ve accepted this fact. Tomatoes are considered a fruit using the terminology in the dictionary because they are a seed bearing structure that grows from the flower of a plant. But according to the US Supreme Court, tomatoes are considered a vegetable because they are eaten with the main meal and not as a dessert, like fruit would be.

Tomatoes are the fruit that comes from the tomato plant, also known as Solanum Iycopersicum. They grow on a vine that is very plentiful during the summer months and can easily be bought at a farmers market or roadside stand. Tomatoes provide a variety of health benefits to those who enjoy them on a regular basis. According to studies, eating tomatoes has been linked to heart health, as well as helping to lower cholesterol. So feel free to add that extra tomato to your salad or to top your pizza.


History of Tomatoes
Tomatoes first grew in the South American Andes and were first eaten in Mexico. At the time, these tomatoes were very small and were most likely yellow or orange instead of red. Aztecs and people in Mesoamerica used these tomatoes in their cooking.

Tomatoes were taken to Spain around the year 1500, but the traveler who took them first is up for debate. Some sources say that the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez may have discovered tomatoes after conquering the Aztecs city of Tenochitlan, now Mexico City, in 1521 and brought them to Spain. Others say that Christopher Columbus can be credited with bringing tomatoes to Spain as early as 1493.

Once the Spanish discovered tomatoes, they began to spread them around the world. When they colonized the Americas, the Spanish distributed tomatoes to the islands of the Caribbean. They also took tomatoes to the Philippines, from which the use of tomatoes spread to southern Asia and then the entire continent of Asia. The Spanish also brought tomatoes to Italy, where they grew very well in the Mediterranean climate.

When tomatoes were first grown in Italy, they were used only as ornamentals and were grown in gardens or flower beds. They were not eaten at first because their growing proximity to the ground symbolized low status. Not even peasants ate tomatoes because there were other vegetables that were much more filling. The first written documentation of tomatoes being eaten in Italy was in 1692 in a cookbook that was published in Naples. Since then, tomatoes have been a staple in many different cuisines around the world.   


Varieties of Tomatoes

The typical definition of a tomato is a red, roundish vegetable, but the cultivar varieties are almost endless. Today there are thousands of tomato cultivars which include a variety of colors such as yellow, orange, pink, purple, green, black and white. These tomatoes also come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The smallest type of tomato currently is the grape tomato which is oblong in shape and most often used in salads. The largest type of tomato is the beefsteak tomato. These are hybrid tomatoes that have been grown for their large size and thin skin. These attributes make them good for commercial use, and they also have a short shelf life.

Another type to tomato that is getting a decent amount of attention these days is the heirloom tomato. The term ‘heirloom’ when describing plants was first used by Professor William Hepler at the University of New Hampshire who used it to describe beans that friends had given him in the 1940s. The first public usage of the word was in 1981 when Kent Whealy of Seed Savers Exchange gave a speech on heirloom plants.

Heirloom tomatoes must have a few required characteristics to bring them into the running. First, they must be open-pollinated and the seeds are typically passed down from generation to generation. Heirloom tomatoes that are grown for commercial use must be a variety that was introduced before 1940, or that has been in circulation for more than 50 years. Throughout the years, these heirloom tomatoes have developed natural resistances to pests and disease. They have also adapted to climate changes and growing conditions. Today, the number of heirloom seeds and tomatoes on the market are significantly lower than they have been in the past because heirlooms are being crossbred for their commercially attractive characteristics.


How Tomatoes Are Used

Tomatoes can be used in a number of different ways. They can be eaten whole, cut up to place atop salads, or made into different types of sauces. Many Italian dishes incorporate tomatoes in at least one way, and pizza almost always has a tomato based sauce. In our experience, we have used tomatoes to make grilled kabobs, frittatas, soup, delicious summer baked dishes and salsas just to name a few.

Some of our favorite tomato recipes include our Meatball Sub, Grilled Lamb Kabobs, Fresh Heirloom Tomato Salsa, Heirloom Tomato and Cucumber Gazpacho, Mushroom, Tomato and Basil Frittata, Tomato Basil Soup and Tomato Spinach and Quinoa Bake.


Forms of Tomatoes

Although we have been talking about using tomatoes in their fresh form, there are a few other ways that they can be used. The first (and possibly my favorite preparation style) is sun dried tomatoes. When tomatoes are dried in the sun it gives them a zesty, summery flavor. You can mix them with other ingredients like olive oil, rosemary, basil and paprika to make your own marinade or use them to top a pizza or mix them into a cheesy Alfredo sauce.

Another form of tomato that many people do not think much about is tomato powder. Tomato powder is an excellent ingredient to have on hand, especially during the colder months when fresh tomatoes are not readily available. It is incredibly easy to make your own homemade tomato sauce with tomato powder and will add a little tomato flavor anywhere you desire.

Even though tomatoes are a summer vegetable, we love to use them in dishes all year round. Now that you know a little bit more about their history, varieties and forms you can begin using them in new and different dishes that your family will love!


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