Produce Pick of the Week: Tomatoes
Fruit or vegetable? Love ‘em or hate ‘em? Any way you slice ‘em, tomatoes are here to stay with over 1,000 different varieties currently cultivated! Part of the nightshade family, that also includes eggplant, bell peppers, and potatoes, tomatoes are considered a fruit from a botanical (plant science) standpoint but are commonly referred to as a vegetable due to their less sweet quality.
The tomato was first grown in Mexico (after the tomatillo) but took a while to grow elsewhere. Many cultures were wary of the tomato due to it being part of the poisonous night shade family and even its name comes from the Latin “wolf peach” referring to its dangerous nature. Finally, in the 1800’s, the poisonous tomato rumor was debunked and it has now become one of the top selling vegetables in the US and throughout other parts of the world.
Not only do tomatoes have a fascinating history (I think I love veggies a little too much), but they are also a very nutritious addition to our daily diets. Tomatoes are low-calorie but very high in vitamin C, carotenes (mostly lycopene), vitamin K, and biotin plus they have a shocking 2 g of fiber per 3 1/2 ounces. Tomatoes lycopene content is especially important because it is being shown to protect against several types of cancer and to lower the risk of heart disease and support eye health.
Lycopene is a potent anti-oxidant that prevents diseases by neutralizing harmful molecules before they can hurt our cells. To get the most lycopene bang for your buck, choose tomatoes with the reddest color (lycopene is the red carotene) and lycopene can be absorbed even better through juice, paste, or when eaten with oils. Other selection tips include picking tomatoes that are firm and fully colored, making sure your canned tomatoes were produced in the US, and make sure once you get them home to store them at room temperature.
When it comes to eating tomatoes, they definitely get their popularity in some part because of their crazy versatility! From soups to salads and salsa to juice, there really is no bad way to eat a tomato. Although I pretty much add tomatoes to everything, including just eating them solo with a little salt and olive oil on top, my new favorite way is a fresh Kumato salsa.
Kumato tomatoes are greenish-brown and have an intense and sweet flavor. Simply chop up some white onion, Kumato tomatoes, cilantro, and jalapeño (or skip it), mix together and top with some salt and you are good to go. Now get out there and experiment with one of those 1,000 types of tomatoes out there!