by Georgia Hodgin
BAR digest, June 1999
A plant of the New World, the tomato is native to the Andes, in particular Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. Early explorers took seeds to Europe where tomatoes remained ornamental for many years. Botanists correctly classified them with the poisonous nightshade family and assumed that they too were deadly, when in reality only the leaves and stems are toxic. Even in the mid-19th century North Americans refused to eat them. Cookbooks said they should be cooked for three hours. The general population developed a taste for raw tomatoes in the 20th century.
Technically, the tomato is a fruit, since it is classified botanically as a berry. Typically in meal planning it is used as a vegetable. Today, tomatoes are used in diets around the world in a variety of ways. Italians use them in sauces and salads. Americans slice them for sandwiches, dice them for salads, stuff them with egg salad, and cook them with sugar and spice for ketchup. Mexicans mince them with cilantro, onions and chilies for salsa.
The French use them in ratatouille, the Spanish in gazpacho. The Swedes use tomato paste in their smorgasbords; and the Norwegians flavor a spread with them. Fried green tomatoes are part of the cuisine of the American South, while New Englanders bake them in sweet green tomato pie.
Tomatoes provide a variety of nutrients for very few calories. At 35 calories, a raw medium-sized tomato has two grams of fiber, which compares to eight grams in an ear of corn, or five grams in a half-cup of green peas, or three grams in a half-cup of broccoli. Half of the vitamin C requirements for a day can come from a medium-sized tomato. It is an excellent source of beta-carotene, potassium, iron and the antioxidant lycopene.
(Source: Health and Home September October 1998, P. 13 )