Tomato: It’s a Fruit

Currently, tomatoes are one of the most popular fruits eaten by Americans. Tomatoes are members of the fruit family, but they are served and prepared as a vegetable. This is why most people consider them a vegetable and not a fruit. Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of vitamin A.

Fruit of the Vine

The tomato is the fruit of a vine native to South America. By the time European explorers arrived in the New World, the tomato had made its way up into Central America and Mexico.

The Spanish carried plants back home from Mexico, but it took some time for tomatoes to be accepted in Spain because it was thought that — like various other members of the nightshade family — they were poisonous.

Some tomato advocates, however, claimed the fruit had aphrodisiac powers and, in fact, the French called them pommes d’amour, meaning “love apples”.

It wasn’t until the 1900s that the tomato gained some measure of popularity in the United States. Today this fruit is one of America’s favorite “vegetables”, (it’s actually a fruit) a classification the government gave the tomato for trade purposes in 1893.

The Tomato

Available all year, tomatoes should be well formed and free from blemishes.

Green tomatoes will eventually turn red, but will not have good flavor. A vine ripened tomato is best. Refrigerate, but do not allow freezing. The color may be deceiving since sometimes chemicals are used to redden them.

Tomatoes will keep better if stored at room temperature. Also, if stored stem down, they will last longer. Warmth ripens tomatoes, not sunlight. Storing tomatoes with the stems pointed down will help the tomato stay fresher, longer.

Tomatoes are rich in vitamin C and contain appreciable amounts of vitamins A and B, potassium, iron and phosphorus. A medium tomato has about as much fiber as a slice of whole-wheat bread and only about 35 calories.

Tomato History

The tomato seems to have originated on the western coast of South America, in present day Peru, where eight species in the tomato genus still grow wild in the Andes Mountains. It seems to have been domesticated in Central America.

This was around the time the Spanish explorer Cortez conquered the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, later to be renamed Mexico City, in 1521. It is presumed that the tomato found its’ way across the Atlantic shortly after.

Although the tomato is a fruit, the Supreme Court ruled in 1893 it could be called a vegetable for trade purposes.

Nutritious Tomatoes

Lycopene, one of nature’s most powerful antioxidants, is found almost exclusively in tomatoes. Following is a summary of the promising lycopene research conducted during the past few years.

  • Tomatoes are lipophilic, which means their nutritional value is increased by being cooked in some fat.
  • Cooked tomatoes may be more beneficial to your health than raw tomatoes.
  • Tomatoes are rich in vitamins (A, C, Calcium) and fiber.
  • Tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant Lycopene.

Spicy tomato tea has been known to relieve cold symptoms. It works fast, and is very easy to prepare. It can alleviate sinus congestion, ear infection, sore throat, coughing and it kills fungal infections, such as Candida. It’s also a natural remedy for strep throat and it kills flu germs.

There may also be an association between heart health and tomatoes. In a study conducted by University of North Carolina scientists, the fat samples drawn from both heart attack sufferers and healthy controls were analyzed for lycopene and other carotenoids. I’ll share the favored recipe in my home – you can grow to really appreciate this recipe, especially when a cold strikes.

Canned Tomatoes

Did you know that a can of tomatoes is loaded with vitamin C, fiber, potassium and iron? What makes these ruby gems even more special is their rich load of lycopene, which becomes more bioavailable to your body when it is cooked.

Lycopene has a host of benefits, including inactivating free radicals, protecting against cancer and slowing the development of atherosclerosis which leads to heart disease. Stir canned tomatoes into pasta dishes, soups, stews, curries, casseroles, Mexican dishes and side dishes for delicious, nutritious comfort.

Three Tomato Tips

  1. To remove skin of tomatoes, place them in warm water for 5 to 10 minutes. The skin can easily be peeled off.
  2. When tomatoes are not available or are too costly, substitute with tomato puree, tomato sauce or ketchup.
  3. Place over-ripe tomatoes in cold water and add salt. They will become firm and fresh overnight.

Tomato Varieties

tomatoes factsThere are thousands of tomato varieties. The most widely available varieties are classified in three groups: cherry, plum, and slicing tomatoes. A new sweet variety like the cherry tomato is the grape tomato, really wonderful to eat alone or in a salad.

Tomatillos are smaller than regular tomatoes, and have a papery husk. Similar in taste to tomatoes, they add a sharp, sour-like flavor to recipes and are very good for you.

Selecting Tomatoes

Cold temperatures damage tomatoes, so never buy tomatoes that are stored in a cold area. Choose plump tomatoes with smooth skins that are free from bruises, cracks, or blemishes. Depending on the variety, ripe tomatoes should be completely red or reddish-orange. Of course if you have access to homegrown tomatoes that is always an excellent choice as well. Food connoisseur’s claim that homegrown tomatoes not only be organic and nutritious, but can also bring extra flavor to any dish!

Organic tomatoes are better. The Environmental Working Group says that tomatoes are most likely to be contaminated with pesticides. In studies, a single sample of cherry tomatoes tested positive for 13 different pesticides.

Did you know? Americans consume 75 percent of their tomatoes in processed forms such as ketchup, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. A study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that organic ketchup contains higher levels of antioxidants than its conventional counterpart.

All of this means you may wish to buy organic tomatoes. When you buy organic, you are not only avoiding nasty chemicals, you are getting more nutritional bang for your buck.

Storing Tomatoes

Store tomatoes at room temperature (above 55 degrees) until they have fully ripened. This will allow them to ripen properly and develop good flavor and aroma. Try to store tomatoes out of direct sunlight, because sunlight will cause them to ripen unevenly.

If you must store them for a longer period of time, place them in the refrigerator. Serve them at room temperature. Chopped tomatoes can be frozen for use in sauces or other cooked dishes.

Lycopene, one of nature’s most powerful antioxidants, is found almost exclusively in tomatoes.

Quick Tomato Facts

  • To grow sweeter, juicier tomatoes, add a teaspoon of sugar to the water can when the tomatoes begin to show color, minimizing the amount of water you give the the plants.
  • The leaves of the tomato plant are toxic if eaten.
  • Americans obtain more of their vitamins from tomatoes than from any other vegetable.
  • Salsa has replaced ketchup as the top selling condiment in the United States. Now there is a salsa/ketchup combination available.
  • One ounce of tomato puree has twice the vitamin C and 20 percent more beta carotene than one ounce of fresh tomato.
  • To peel tomatoes easily, place them in boiling water and remove from heat, allow to stand for one minute then plunge them into cold water.
  • Another way to peel a tomato is to place a long fork into it and hold it over a gas burner until the skin blisters. The skin should peel off easily.
  • Tomatoes will keep longer if you store them stem down.
  • Tomatoes may be broiled and sprinkled with grated cheese for a different taste treat.
  • Tomatoes should ever be left to ripen in direct sunlight, as they will lose most of their vitamin C.
  • When slicing tomatoes, it will be easier if you use a bread knife with saw teeth. It will not even tear the skin.
  • Tomatoes are sometimes picked green and ethylene gassed on their way to the supermarket right in the trucks. This can be accomplished during an overnight run.
  • There is a big difference in vitamin loss and taste in a gassed tomato and a vine-ripened one.
  • Americans eat approximately 24 pounds of tomatoes per person, per year.
  • If you are expecting a frost and have tomatoes on the vine, pull them up by the roots and hang them upside down in a cool basement until the fruit ripens.
  • The federal government can detect only 55 percent of the 100 approved pesticides.
  • Green tomatoes will ripen faster if you store them with apples. Both give off ethylene gas when ripening and the extra shot of gas will make them ripen faster.
  • Green tomatoes will also ripen faster if stored in a cool place wrapped loosely in newspapers. This method may take a week or two.

Pair ’em Up!

Green zebra tomatoes are fruity with playful bursts of lemon-lime. A delicious way to balance rich proteins like pork chops.

Brandywine tomatoes have a full flavored, classic tomato taste. They are wonderful raw in salads and sandwiches or simply roasted.

Cherokee purple tomatoes are smoky with a slight sweetness, likened to a Zinfandel wine. They are great in salsas or cold soups like gazpacho.

Tomato Legend

tomatoesUntil the nineteenth century, Americans purportedly considered tomatoes to be poisonous. Legend holds that, in 1820, a wealthy eccentric named Robert Gibbon Johnson, determined to prove the tomato to be a harmless, edible fruit, stood before a crowd at the courthouse in Salem, New Jersey and ate a basket full of tomatoes.

Tomato Tea Recipe

2 cups V8 Juice
2 or 3 crushed garlic cloves
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Hot Sauce to taste (as hot as you can tolerate)

Combine all ingredients in small saucepan; warm over low heat. Sip the tea slowly and allow the fumes to enter the sinuses by holding it in the back of your throat. Reheat the mixture as needed, and drink as much of it as you want. If you don’t have hot sauce you can substitute red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, horseradish, black pepper, mustard or fresh hot peppers. They all have anti-bacterial and fungal properties, which are essential for clearing out the sinuses and fighting infections.

Tomatoes are even better for your heart and overall health if you forgo the salt and try seasonings such as basil, bay leaf, dill, marjoram, onion, oregano, parsley or black pepper.

Tipsy Cherry Tomatoes

Slit the bottom of the cherry tomato through the skin and plunge it in boiling water for 15 seconds, then in ice water, so the peel curls up and is easy to remove. Soak peeled tomatoes overnight in a dry, crisp white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc. Drain and serve tomatoes with lemon zest.

Zesty Tomato Soup

Another simple, but fabulous, recipe.

  • 1 cup tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dill
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Blend all the ingredients in a blender and serve.

A Note on Green Tomatoes

Green tomatoes may be out-muscling spinach! Scientists have identified a compound in them called tomatidine that helps build muscle and protect against atrophy. It has been found to stimulate growth in human muscle cells. One green tomato packs 57-percent of your daily vitamin C and 2g each of protein and fiber.

Tomato Tidbits

Also about 500 years ago people with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead (in the pewter) to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning and death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Tomato Leaves a Remedy for the Curculio*
“I planted a peach orchard,” writes M. Story, of the Society of Horticulture of France, “and the trees grew well and strongly. They just commenced to bud when they were invaded by the curculio (pulyon), which insects were followed, as frequently happens, by ants. Having cut some tomatoes, the idea occurred to me that, by placing some of the leaves around the trunk and branches of the peach trees, I might preserve them from the rays of the sun, which are very powerful. My surprise was great, upon the following day, to find the trees entirely free from their enemies, not one remaining, except here and there where a curled leaf prevented the tomato from exercising its influence. These leaves I carefully unrolled, placing upon them fresh ones from the tomato vine, with the result of banishing the last insect and enabling the trees to grown with luxuriance. Wishing to carry still further my experiment, I steeped in water some leaves of the tomato, and sprinkled with this infusion other plants, roses, and oranges. In two days these were also free from the innumerable insects which covered them, and I felt sure that, had I used the same means with my melon patch, I should have met with the same result. I therefore deem it a duty I owe to the Society of Horticulture to make known this singular and useful property of the tomato leaves, which I discovered by the merest accident.”
*Curculio – a type of beetle
Source: The Farm and Household Cyclopedia – circa 1888

In Summary


  • Tomatoes are rich in vitamins (A, C, Calcium) and fiber.
  • Tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene.
  • Lycopene, one of nature’s most powerful antioxidants, is found almost exclusively in tomatoes.

Read More: Food Facts