The Lowly Tomato
Unless tomato sauce is missing on salsa or on pizza most of us generally take tomatoes for granted. Somehow tomatoes just aren’t exciting. We all have heard it all before. “tomatoes are “nutritious”. We are also reminded that the lowly tomato has about 235 mg of potassium and packed full of vitamin C having 900 mg. And it even packs 900 mg of protein.”
But let’s take a closer look. There are actually many exciting sides to the tomato. Tomatoes started their humble existence in Peru but were cultivated in vast quantities by the Aztecs well before Europeans landed in the Americas.
Tomatoes’ scientific name, Solanum copernicium, actually comes from the German myths of werewolves with the lycopersicum meaning “wolf peach.” Yet no one needs a science degree to taste the many delicious flavors found in salsas, pizzas and hundreds of dishes.
What the tomato is also is also confusing. Most of us might say the tomato is a vegetable. But is actually a fruit because it carries its own seeds and ripe ovary inside of it like all other fruits. Yet the US Supreme Court ruled in Nix vs. Hedden that tomatoes are a vegetable. There are not many fruits or vegetables that are kind of both.
There was also a lot of confusion on what tomatoes were around 1540 following their introduction in Europe. Italians thought of tomatoes as a rare curiosity plant and commonly referred to as “Poison Apples” with many believing tomatoes to be highly toxic to humans. The gossip was that several European aristocrats who had eaten tomatoes had died shortly thereafter. The reality, however was that pewter plates being used by aristocrats contained high levels of lead. Still other Europeans believed tomatoes to be an aphrodisiac!
In the United States the attitude was about the same. A Barber-Surgeon by the name of Gerard stated in his book tomatoes had a bad and even stinking flavor. Gerard also pointed out the plant was highly poisonous but that the fruit was safe. And in New York farmers growing tomatoes starting warning of the infestation of green tomatoes by 4-inch worms that contaminated tomatoes with poison that were highly deadly to humans. Even Ralph Waldo Emerson joined in sounding the alarm on both the worms and tomatoes themselves.
But time has overcome all these superstitions and now tomatoes are looked at differently. Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant that lowers the chances of getting cancer and possibly heart disease. Tomatoes today enjoy a place among all other edibles with more than 15,000 known varieties. Today tomatoes are the number one fruit around the world.
So, there are many interesting sides to the tomato! Considering that the lowly tomato has gone through many fights which it lost but eventually wins the tomato could be named the “Rocky Balboa” of vegetables – er fruits. The tomato finally wins.