Tomatoes: Natureâ€™s Jack of All Trades
You say tom-AY-to, I say tom-AH-to. Regardless of how you say it, tomatoes are a culinary staple. Though technically a fruit, the tomato is more commonly considered a vegetable due to its roles in recipes. Whether you prefer your tomatoes in a sauce, made into ketchup or fresh off the vine, thereâ€™s no denying theyâ€™re one of the most versatile foods around.
How theyâ€™re grown
The tomato is often thought of as a key component of Mediterranean cuisine, but it is actually native to the Americas. Tomatoes were present when the first conquistadors arrived and were taken back to Spain. Eventually, tomatoes made their way throughout Europe and became common in many countries.
- Tomatoes love the sun, which is why they flourish in temperate Mediterranean climates.
- In the U.S., Florida is the nationâ€™s largest producer of fresh tomatoes. California produces the most tomatoes for processed food items, like canned and pureed tomatoes.
- Tomatoes are also a common plant in home vegetable gardens, with many heirloom varieties available.
- In cooler climates, tomatoes are often grown in greenhouses.
How to shop for them
- There are literally thousands of tomato varieties. Try cherry tomatoes for your salads, Roma tomatoes for sauces and stews, and hearty slices of beefsteak tomatoes for sandwiches and burgers.
- Select tomatoes with rich colors. Depending on the variety, this may mean deep red, vibrant orange or even rich purple!
- Look for tomatoes with smooth skin. Avoid wrinkles and cracks.
- You want your tomatoes to be toned, which means they should have a bit of give when lightly squeezed, but no noticeable soft spots or bruises.
- Tomatoes should be well shaped and not puffy.
How to store them
- Never store fresh, whole tomatoes in the fridge. Why? Tomatoes in the fridge will lose flavor rapidly, and cold temperatures can stop the ripening process (which is especially an issue if you purchased tomatoes that are not yet fully ripe).
- Instead, store tomatoes in a dry place at room temperature. If you need to speed up the ripening process, put tomatoes in a paper bag.
How to prepare them
- Wash tomatoes in cool water, pat dry and prepare as needed.
- It is best to use a serrated knife when cutting a tomato because the skin can be resistant to punctures. Bread knives can work well.
- When cooking them, avoid using aluminum cookware. Tomatoes are acidic and can react with aluminum to take on an unpleasant flavor.
- Need to easily remove the skin? Use a serrated knife to cut an x in the bottom of a ripe tomato, just deep enough to penetrate the skin. Drop the tomato into boiling water and blanch for 20-30 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to remove the tomato from the boiling water and immerse it in ice water. Use a knife to carefully remove the core and watch as the skin slips right off.
How to eat them
The beauty of tomatoes is that you can eat them however you want! Here are a few simple ways to try them. Once a tomato is ripe, they are best eaten within two to three days.
- Slice tomatoes and top them with fresh mozzarella cheese. Add fresh basil and a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette.
- Make your own salsa: combine chopped tomatoes, diced onions, your favorite bell peppers and cilantro for a simple and fresh salsa. Add jalapeno for a bit of a kick.
- Make a tomato salad: dice tomatoes, chop an onion, chop an avocado and top with zesty Italian dressing. Toss everything together and enjoy!
Nutritional highlightsÂ Â Â Â Â
Tomatoes provide vitamin C, vitamin A, fiber, potassium and an impressive antioxidant called lycopene, which may be beneficial for heart health. Even better news is that the cooking process can actually cause the lycopene to become even more available for use in the body. Tomatoes also have other carotenoids (including beta-carotene), which have been shown to support eye health.
- Â˝ cup of chopped fresh tomato has only 15 calories, no fat or cholesterol, 4 grams of carbohydrates and 1 gram of fiber.
- Â˝ cup of chopped tomatoes also provides 15% of the daily recommended value of vitamin A and 20% of the daily recommended value of vitamin C.