What is Tomato?
The tomato plant is a member of the nightshade family, like the eggplant and potato.
This plant is indigenous American and it grew from Mexico to Peru’. The tomato was called tomatl in the Nahuatl
language which was spoken by the Aztecs living in Central America, who also called it xitomati or
When America was discovered, the Spanish disseminated the tomato in Spain and from there to the Mediterranean
countries, then to the Philippines and the Asian Continent.
The first tomato cultivated in Spain was the yellow tomato imported from the Yucatan Peninsula, around the year
1540 and it was called tomate.
In Italy the tomato came through Morocco, in fact when the Moors were driven out of Spain in the 15th century they
took with them the tomatoes’ seeds. From there it was introduced to Italy and called pomo dei Mori, Moor’s
Pier Andrea Mattioli, a doctor and naturalist born in Siena, published in 1544
the commentaries on the “Materia Medica”, where he described the Pomo dei Mori as a golden apple, the Pomo d’oro
because of the yellow color and he noted in Italy, peasants were eating it as a salad with olive oil, salt and
When it was cultivated in France, they referred to the Pomo dei Mori with a name of similar sound and called it
pomme d’amour, apple of love.
The original word tomatl was transformed in the English language as tomato.
Around the year 1600, a variety of small red tomato was introduced first in Italy and afterward all over the
Mediterranean area, where it grew abundantly. At that time the red tomato plants were considered ornamental bushes,
and it was commonly believed that the red tomato was poisonous.
It was not until the 17th century that the tomato was accepted as an edible fruit, it was commercialized and a
large variety of tomato recipes, were introduced.
There are many varieties of tomatoes and the most popular are beefsteak, a big fruit, almost round in shape, bright
red, delicious raw in salad or cooked. Other common tomatoes are the globe and the plum, also called Italian plum,
very good fruits to make sauces or an excellent salad.
Brandywine, Cherry, Roma and many other types of tomatoes are available. Recently “the vine ripened” tomatoes are
sold widely and they are preferred for their taste and bouquet. .
In Italy many varieties of the pear tomato are grown for canning and very famous is the San Marzano. The tomatoes
grown for salad vary from region to region. The beefsteak type is preferred, some other varieties are the Costoluto
Fiorentino, the Maremmano, from Tuscany, the Romanesco, the Genovese, etc.
In Sicily all varieties are grown and in very popular is the Pachino tomato a sort of cherry tomato or the palla di
fuoco, the fire ball, both sought after for salad and to make sauces.
Tomatoes should never be refrigerated because temperature below 50 degrees changes the consistency of the flesh and
destroys its taste.
To ripen tomatoes, place fruits in a paper bag with an apple, this way the ethylene gas released by the apple will
help the fruits to mature.
Sun-dried tomatoes are dried in the sun or artificially, the end product is a dry fruit, extremely flavorful. In
the USA it is used widely for soups, sauces and salads.
Canned is conveniently prepared in a concentrated form, labeled paste. Tomato paste can be diluted to make or add
to sauces. Also available are peeled, crushed or tomato puree, sometime aromatized with herbs and spices and in
ready to use sauces for pasta condiment or to add to other preparations.
The benefits of the tomato to the human body are few but fundamental.
The high content of lycopene present in the tomato, has benefits that effect the risk of chronic diseases like
cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
In fact the lycopene, one of the most potent antioxidants of all carotenoids, is present in tomato more than any
other fruit or vegetable and even more when the tomato is processed and the lycopene becomes more concentrated. So
the consumption of tomato is associated with a significantly lower risk of prostate, breast, lung and other types
of cancer, it also helps control coronary heart diseases and other chronic conditions that are the main causes of
death in America and in Europe.