Tomatoes are believed to have been developed by the Aztecs. Their introduction to North American was hampered because, being a member of the nightshade family, they were thought to be poisonous. They were grown as decorative plants and were called ‘love apples’. We must remember that transportation and communication in colonial times was virtually non-existent when compared to the instant information and fast transportation of today.
The story is told of a man, who had seen tomatoes eaten in other countries without ill effect, ate a tomato on the courthouse steps of a large city and he didn’t die, that the western world got the idea that tomatoes were a good food.
One of the fondest memories of my boyhood is getting up early on a summer morning, dressed only in my bib overalls and with a salt shaker in my pocket, going out into the dewy tomato patch to enjoy a luscious, fully ripened tomato for my breakfast.
Varieties of tomatoes
There are more than 300 varieties of tomato. They are selectively grown according to the intended market. Some are the big, beautiful fruit that we find on the grocer’s shelves, some are specifically developed to be meaty tomatoes that are sliced for making sandwiches, some are grown for making juice or tomato paste. Then, we have the variety tomatoes such as the plum tomato, the yellow and the cherry tomatoes that are found in salad bars and store shelves.
Because of the constraints placed on fruit and vegetable production brought on by the realities of getting good looking marketable produce to market in good condition, the ripening process of tomatoes in particular is severely compromised. A variety is grown that offers the best product; it is picked green and shipped. The fruit may be ripened in transit and in storage by inducing a small amount of ethylene gas into the vehicle or storage room.
Phytonutrients in tomatoes
It is claimed by some that only vine ripened fruit that is left intact until just a few hours of complete ripening, is fully nutritious with the phytonutrients that make tomatoes such a valuable ally in fighting diseases such as cancer.
Are tomatoes a fruit or a vegetable?
The answer is that they are a fruit that can be used as a vegetable.