Fresh from the vine, as a sauce, out of a tube, or made into soup – tomatoes are a real all-rounder and an essential player in so many dishes. We take a look at why tomatoes are so popular and why not all tomatoes are the same.
Top ranking tomatoes
All around the world, the tomato is a top ten culinary fruit. Yes, it definitely is a fruit – and a mighty popular one too. In fact, more tomatoes are produced globally than any other fruit (170m tonnes), even more than nature’s fast food, the banana (100m tonnes).
Tomatoes are low in calories, consisting almost entirely of water. 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. For the body to optimally absorb and utilise the lycopene, tomatoes should be cooked before eating. Like most things, how a tomato tastes and whether we enjoy its taste is a subjective matter. 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?
Like most things, how a tomato tastes and whether we enjoy its taste is a subjective matter. However, there are several factors that can benefit a tomato’s ripeness and its taste. The variety naturally plays a 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.
- 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 come to room temperature before eating.
And, for the freshest possible experience, you can grow your own tomatoes in your garden or on 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.
Available all year
That so many tomatoes are consumed is, of course, partly due to the fact that they can be purchased all year round. In the UK, domestically cultivated tomatoes are available from May to October, with the main season extending from June to August. However, the UK imports the vast majority of its tomatoes from countries such as Spain, France, Italy and the Netherlands. And, during the winter months, imports from the likes of Morocco and Israel ensure that supplies of the red power-veg are never in any doubt.
The varieties on offer are steadily growing
Over recent 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 tomatoes on the vine have joined the club, and these newer varieties are currently among the most popular.
Tomatoes on the vine 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 tomatoes on the vine 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 different 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.
How poisonous are unripe tomatoes?
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.
Naturally, 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.
- There are over 20,000 different varieties of tomatoes
- The largest tomato on record was just shy of 4kg in weight
- ‘La Tomatina’ is an annual festival that takes place in the Spanish town of Buñol where around 40,000 people throw tomatoes at each other.
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