Most people think of the tomato as a vegetable. However, it is actually a berry. At one point in history, people thought tomatoes were poisonous. Today, they are eaten all over the world in a variety of forms. Tomatoes may be consumed as a soup, a juice, a sauce, a dressing, or a salad.
Photo: The tomato has its origins in the New World (Creative Commons: Swaminathan).
The tomato plant is a vine. The vines are covered with fine hairs that will turn into roots if it is in contact with moist soil. Most tomatoes have compound leaves.
The tomato fruit is a berry. Its flowers are yellow and 1-2 centimeters across. Flowers have five pointed lobes on the corolla. Up to a dozen flowers appear together on a cyme.
The scientific name for the tomato is Solanum lycopersicum. It is a flowering plant and a member of the Solanaceae family. Other members of this family include the potato and the eggplant.
The tomato was domesticated by 500 BC in Central America. At the time, tomatoes tended to be small and yellow in color. Christopher Columbus probably brought the tomato to Europe in the late 1400’s. From Europe, it spread to the entire Mediterranean region. The Spanish also took tomatoes to the Philippines from where it spread to the Asian continent.
The emergence of the berry as a worldwide food is due to Spanish colonialism. This took place in the 1500’s. In Europe, the tomato was used largely as an ornamental plant. There, the fruit was easily cultivated in the warm Mediterranean region.
In time, southern Italy became famous for its tomato sauces. By the 1800’s it was part of the diet of Italy and the Mediterranean. Tomatoes were also becoming part of the North American diet.
Tomato and Humans
Today, there are many types of tomatoes. Depending on their properties, they may be used for soups or sauces. Ketchup is a worldwide favorite with French fries. In Italy, they are a key ingredient sauces. This plant is also popular in its raw form as a salad ingredient and many consider it a vegetable.
Tomatoes contain lycopene which is thought to help protect against cancer. They are also excellent sources of vitamins A and C. Today, China, India and the United States are the major producers of the tomato.
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Tomatoes, BBC Good Food.