By: Ashley Vangel
Tomatoes are a wonderful food that are super versatile. They come in over a thousand different varieties that all vary in shape, size, and color. They’re grown and eaten all around the world and used in so many various ways.
Tomatoes can be eaten raw and go especially well in salads. They can be processed into soups, juice, salsas, and ketchup. Green tomatoes, which are unripened tomatoes, are often breaded and fried in the southern part of the United States. Although tomatoes are available year-round across the U.S., some of the most delicious flavors and aromas come from the tomatoes that are planted in the spring and early summer months and ripen in the mid- to late-summer months.
Ever wonder if a tomato is actually a fruit or vegetable? Tomatoes are technically fruits in the botany world. However they are much less sweet and have a much lower sugar content than most fruits. Because of this feature, tomatoes are typically served within a savory dish as part of a salad, appetizer or main course, instead of a dessert. In the kitchen, chefs may refer to them as “culinary” vegetables since they use them in so many savory dishes.
Did you know that tomatoes actually originated in the Americas? However they were brought back to Europe and now are used in many Mediterranean cuisines. Now tomatoes are used in some of these countrys’ signature dishes. Italians make pizza and pasta sauce with tomatoes, while Spaniards use tomatoes to make gazpacho.
Tomatoes are super nutritious and are packed full of wonderful vitamins and minerals. Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, biotin, and vitamin K. They are also a very good source of potassium, vitamin A, phosphorus, vitamin E, and folate. One medium tomato (about 2-⅗” diameter) offers about 30% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C. This serving also offers about 20% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin A. Not that I’m expecting you to eat a raw tomato by itself, but try it chopped up in a salad or make some pico de gallo (fresh salsa). Ever had a caprese salad with sliced fresh tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil? These foods make for a tasty treat with raw tomatoes.
Tomatoes are also a rich source of lycopene. Lycopene is an antioxidant and pigment that is responsible for the red and pink colors found in many produce foods, and tomatoes in particular. Lycopene is also found in pink grapefruit, guava, and watermelon. Lycopene acts as an antioxidant by fighting off and destroying free radicals, which can cause damage to the body and promote disease. Studies show that lycopene helps prevent prostate, lung, and stomach cancers. Additional studies show that lycopene intake may also help to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (or heart disease), as well as other types of cancers, including pancreas, breast, and esophageal cancer. Did you know that the lycopene content grows stronger as the tomato is cooked? That means, you get more lycopene from using tomato paste, pasta sauce, and other tomato-based sauces. Go easy on the ketchup though! Even though ketchup may be higher in lycopene, it’s also high in sugar as well.
I’m currently growing some tomatoes in my backyard garden. Tomatoes are actually one of the easiest veggies to grow in a garden… which is why I chose them to plant! They’re just about read to be picked and I can’t wait. I prefer to eat garden fresh tomatoes raw on a salad to really taste the flavor. Leave a comment below with your favorite way to prepare tomatoes.
Ashley is a registered dietitian and a licensed dietitian in the state of Texas. She graduated from Framingham State University, majoring in nutrition and dietetics and she completed her dietetic internship at the University of Connecticut. (more)