THE SWELLING FRUIT
Drink water. Do twenty minutes of exercise per day. Get regular sleep. Eat five fruit and vegetables per day. Five seems to be a number that we can all manage. Just about. And if those fruit and vegetables included two tomatoes? What health benefits would come my way?
Tomatoes are not only high in vitamin C, vitamin B1 and vitamin B6, but they are also low in carbs and calories. Perfect. Two of my five-a-day. Tick. Recommended daily vitamin C intake (40 mg for men and women). Almost all of it (34.25mgs). Recommended daily vitamin B1 intake (1.4mg for men aged 14+, 1.1mg for women aged 18+). Tick. Recommended daily vitamin A intake (900mcgs for men, 700mcgs for women). Almost all of it (625mcgs). I'm beginning to feel good about eating more tomatoes.
Hailing from South America, this culinary delight is classified as a fruit by botanists and more specifically (and perhaps more surprisingly) as a berry. The name 'tomato' which is used throughout the world is a variation on the Spanish word 'tomate'. This in turn comes from the Nahuatl language of the Aztec people who gave this fruit the name 'tomatl', which means 'the swelling fruit'. Once the Aztecs started cultivating the 'tomatl' for culinary purposes, they changed its name to 'xitomatl,' which translated means 'plump with navel'. Following the conquest of the Americas by the Spanish in the 16th century, the tomato made its way to Europe where, however, it did not gain immediate popularity.
The first berries trasnported to Europe were yellow. Given that the yellow berry was a novelty from the Americas, it adorned the tables of the aristocracy where it was often laid on a pewter dish. As a result of the fruit leaching lead from the pewter plate, lead poisoning was rampant and the tomato was blamed for this. It therefore gained the nickname of 'poison apple' and was unpopular for the best part of two centuries. The tomato also had another name in Europe which was 'golden apple' as pomodoro (pomo - apple, doro - golden), the Italian name for tomato identifies.
From the time when the first variety left the Americas and made its way to Europe, more than a staggering 10,000 varieties of tomatoes have developed. It is difficult to know whether these are all hydrids or individual varieties, but for sure that is a lot more than the ten I was able to count and identify! My list of ten included different shapes and colours of popular tomatoes such as cherry tomatoes, pear tomatoes and plum tomatoes, but lacked beefsteak tomatoes, globe tomatoes, grape tomatoes, Campari tomatoes, oxheart tomatoes and tomberries. I was also surprised to discover that tomatoes come in seven main colours; blue, red, pink, green, yellow, black and white.
Black tomatoes are grown on the Crimean peninsula in the Ukraine. The dark shades of the flesh and skin are as a result of hot summers which build high levels of anthocyanins and fruit sugars. Anthocyanin also possess anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-obesity effects and are extracted by pharmaceutical companies as potential active ingredients. I must look out for those. More health benefits that I am sure I can impress somebody with. Accentuate the benefits and omit talking about chocolate and cheese... It's a fool-proof plan!
Tomatoes are a very flexible plant to grow and adapt well to many different kinds of soil including sandy soil and heavy clay, but optimal conditions include well-drained soils with a pH range of 6.0 - 7.0, full sunlight and 21-24 degrees Celsius. Tomatoes need to be watered once a day, but twice if the weather conditions are hot. In cooler climates, tomatoes can be grown in a greenhouse, but if they are moved many times (outdoors to indoors and vice versa), they will eventually stop producing fruit. It takes approximately 140 - 145 days to grow a crop of tomatoes and each plant will produce one crop. It sounds easy, but aside from having orchids as house plants, I am not known for having green fingers. Therefore, the question is, do I try to cultivate tomatoes and enjoy a small degree of success or perhaps the recrimination that I cannot even grow a tomato? Hmm, methinks that some time is needed to deliberate my dilemma!
Further to the health benefits previously mentioned, tomatoes - including cooked and processed tomato products such as ketchup, sauces and paste - also contain an antioxidant called lycopene which is believed to play a role in preventing cancer and protects cells from being damaged. Research is still being undertaken with regards to the full effects of lycopene on the body, but as an antioxidant it has a role in preventing cancer and heart disease. Lycopene is also known to have benfits for the skin and to reduce sun damage. The presence of vitamin K and calcium strengthens bones, vitamin B is good for the heart and vitamin A helps protect the eyes against light-induced damage.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the tomato is recognised for its ability to tonify yin. The tomato is regarded as a 'cold' food according to the five TCM categories of hot, warm, neutral, cool and cold. These five categories refer not to the temperature that food is served at, but the effect that the particlar item of food has on the body's temperature. For example, wine and chilli are considered 'hot' items as they naturally heat up the body. Apples, celery and tomatoes are considered 'cold' items as they cool down the body's temperature. As such, tomatoes help clear heat from the body and elminate toxins.
From its slow acceptance in Europe to the present day, tomatoes have become a staple in every discerning kitchen and are regularly seen in salads, on pizzas, in sauces and soups as well as in the popular Bloody Mary cocktail. Nowadays, they are so popular that almost every kitchen will have tomatoes in whiehever colours, shapes and forms are locally available.
Tomatoes are currently the world's third largest vegetable crop after potatoes and onions and the leading tomato-producing countries are; China, India, the USA, Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Italy, Spain and Brazil. Culturally, the tomato has become a celebrity in certain corners of the world where it is celebrated not only in the kitchen, but also in the street and state. In the United States, tomato juice has come to be known as the official beverage in the state of Ohio. Further afield in Europe, 'La Tomatina', a tomato festival in Spain, has taken on new proportions. In the town of Buñol in the autonomous community of Valencia, locals take to the streets on the last Wednesday of August each year to throw tomatoes at anyone and everyone. Needless to say, 'La Tomatina' is a very messy celebration of the tomato! This celebration ends in the fire brigade hosing down buildings and participants at the end of the tomato fight. It sounds crazy, but fun. I firmly believe that most (legal) things should be tried once in life! It definitely sounds a lot safer than running with the bulls in the north of Spain!! I have added it to my list of things to do in August. It will definitely be something that I am not likely to ever repeat again nor will it be forgotten for a long time!!
Without doubt, the Bloody Mary cocktail is the signature cocktail of tomato juice. However, I was surprised to discover the many variations of cocktails that have been created using tomato juice. These include the Red Snapper (tomato juice + gin and dry vermouth), the Maria Sangrienta (tomato juice + fino sherry), the Bloody Carioca (tomato juice + cachaca), the California 99 (tomato juice + sparkling wine), the Red Beer/Red Eye (tomato juice + beer), the Cubanita (tomato juice + spiced rum) and the Bloody Maria (tomato juice + tequila). It seems that tomato juice is very adaptable according to personal taste and preference.
So where does that leave the tomato in my kitchen? As I nibble at yellow and green cherry tomatoes whilst contemplating what to do with my big red beefsteak tomatoes, I figure that any vegetable, fruit or berry that is low in carbs and calories and high in vitamins will always be welcome in my kitchen. It is the perfect snack to gauge on, can be dipped in hummus or turned into a lovely gazpacho soup and the juice can be turned into a Bloody Mary on the rocks to finish my day with. Perfect.
Looking for something hotter than Collin Morikawa's streak of consecutive made cuts? Then be sure to check out this video where our founder, Charles Lovejoy, shows you how to make a delicious Bloody Mary from scratch!