Fruit or vegetable, or whatever plant category you consider tomato to be part of. There’s no denying how versatile a tomato can be, that’s why most of us can’t really decide if it were to be called a fruit or a vegetable.
Tomatoes are a real all-rounder and an essential player in so many dishes – some would even snack on those tiny varieties. Now, let’s take a closer look on why they are so popular and what other varieties exist.
Literally hundreds of varieties
Over the years, the variety of tomatoes available has steadily increased. It used to be that our choices were restricted to round, oblong, beef or cherry tomatoes. Nowadays, baby plum tomatoes, grape tomatoes and cluster tomatoes (vine-ripened tomatoes) have joined the club, and these newer varieties are currently among the most popular.
Cluster tomatoes last for longer after harvesting and ripen evenly on the plant, which doesn’t happen if they are harvested from the vine too early. Optimum ripening means that cluster tomatoes contain maximum nutrients and boast exceptional flavour. Cherry tomatoes, cocktail tomatoes and beef tomatoes are all available on the vine.
Multi-coloured and not always round
Tomatoes come in all sorts of shapes and a wide range of colours. Apart from round tomatoes – probably the best-known type – there are oblong, flat, plum-shaped, pear-shaped and date-shaped tomatoes. And the classic red tomato sits alongside yellow, orange, brown-black, green, purple and even black varieties.
Pomme d’amour or ‘love apple’ as referred to by the French or ‘pomodoro’ in Italy, which means golden apple – probably referring to the different varieties that were yellow or orange in colour.
Are unripe tomatoes really poisonous?
Tomatoes belong to the nightshade family, which means that they sometimes contain toxic substances. This mainly relates to unripe, green tomatoes, and to the leaves and stalk of the plant, which contain the natural poison solanine. If consumed in large quantities, solanine can cause nausea and headaches. Solanine helps the plant to protect itself against pests and reduces the growth of bacteria and mould. Therefore, you must always eat ripe tomatoes and make sure that you remove the green stem base (which contains solanine even if the tomato is ripe) when consuming or preparing tomatoes.
Generally, you don’t have to worry about eating tomatoes that are naturally green and that don’t change colour on ripening, for example the ‘Evergreen’, ‘Green Zebra’ and ‘Green Grape’ varieties.
Like most things, how a tomato tastes and whether we enjoy its taste is subjective. However, there are several factors that can benefit a tomato’s ripeness and its taste. The variety naturally plays an important role in flavour, as do the sugar and acid content, the tomato’s firmness, how it is prepared, the aroma and, of course – and this is a key factor – the temperature at which the tomato is eaten. Some people prefer chilled tomatoes while others prefer them warmer.
What is the best way to store tomatoes?
- When storing tomatoes in the refrigerator, make sure that they are completely ripe. Although the cool temperatures in the refrigerator slow the rate at which tomatoes perish, they also stop them from ripening fully.
- Tomatoes are climacteric fruit, i.e. they continue to ripen after being harvested. You should only place them in the refrigerator once they have reached the desired level of ripeness.
- Once optimal ripeness has been reached from your point of view, you can simply eat the tomatoes right away, cook them as desired, or refrigerate them.
- For a more intense taste experience, we recommend removing tomatoes from the refrigerator and allowing them to regulate to room temperature before eating.
And, for the freshest possible experience, you can grow your own tomatoes in your garden or in your balcony. This way you can ensure that they have reached their optimum ripeness before picking them, and then eat them straight away at their very best.
Low in calories and packed with goodness
Consisting of 94% water and with only 17 kcal per 100 g, tomatoes are very low in calories and a perfect, guilt-free snack. They lower the blood pressure and are diuretic, making them good for the heart and kidneys.
When exposed to plenty of sun and ideal soil conditions, tomatoes contain higher levels of vitamins A, B, C and E than almost any other vegetable. They are also rich in magnesium, iron, calcium and phosphorous.
Phytochemicals known as ‘carotenoids’ are responsible for the colour of tomatoes, which ranges from yellow to red. The red pigment lycopene is particularly adept at strengthening the immune system, and high levels are found in ketchup and tomato purée.
To get the most out of tomatoes, it is highly advisable to cook them before eating. Studies show that lycopene and other nutrients found in the tomato are boosted even more through the simple act of cooking.