A Guide to Tomatoes

An introduction to tomatoes, including what they are, nutrition information, recommended recipes, and frequently asked questions.

You say tomato, I say tomato…you say a vegetable, I say a fruit.  Who knew a plant could be so controversial?!  TOMATOES, you are glorious.  We cook with you all of the time, be it pastas, pizzas, curries, salads.  The list goes on and on for this delicious and versatile food.  I don’t know if it’s my Italian heritage, but sometimes I think tomatoes run through my blood.  Tomatoes and I got off to an interesting start, however.  I was five years old when I grabbed a tomato out of the crisper and bit into it like it was an apple.  Something was either wrong with the tomato or it wasn’t the way I was meant to consume them, but I got sick almost immediately.  I wouldn’t eat fresh, unadulterated tomatoes again until I was in my late teens.  What a shame, all of those tomato years I missed out on.  Alas, I’m making up for it now.  It is by far and large my favorite fruit.

Tomatoes are a powerhouse of antioxidants. First and foremost, these antioxidants are linked to heart health and regulating fat in the bloodstream.  Antioxidants in tomatoes, with a large amount coming from Lycopene, are protective against several types of cancer and protect the skin from UV rays.  Red varieties are said to contain more, but there are still a wealth in orange and yellow varieties.  The large amounts of vitamin A are necessary for our vision, especially low-light and color.  In addition, packed with vitamin C which is also an antioxidant, tomatoes help our bodies fight against harmful diseases.  They also provide a boost in potassium, at 300mg per cup, which helps decrease blood pressure.  There is also more and more research coming available about tomatoes and how they positively impact our bone health.  How amazing is that?!  You can eat these beautiful plants and get all of these benefits?!  I am continuously blown away but the natural preventative and healing properties of plants and how available they are to us.  I’m surprised they aren’t gobbled up to the point that we can’t access or afford them.  As they say, nature’s medicine!

See below to learn more about tomatoes, including other frequently asked questions and recipe ideas!

Basic Nutritional Information

Calories Total Fat Carbohydrate Protein Potassium Vitamin A Vitamin C
18g 0.2g 3.9g .9g 300mg 20% DV 28% DV
Low Low Low Low Medium High High

*1 cup or 1 medium tomato

Frequently Asked Questions

Where did tomatoes originate?
They originated in South America.  Tomatoes are native to the region of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile, but the tomatoes we know were cultivated by the Mayans.  Around the 1500s, Spanish conquistadors learned of them and began shipping them around the globe.  Tomatoes were thought to be poisonous in North America, so they were not eaten until 1820 when someone in North America ate one and didn’t die. Think of all of that nutrition they were missing out on!

What is a night shade?
Tomatoes are called night shades, which is a word that originates from the food family they belong to, Solanaceae.  There are over 2,000 species of nightshades, and they range from flowers and herbs, to trees and vegetables.  We are most familiar with tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes and peppers.  They are completely healthy for most people, but for a few it can act as a trigger similar to wheat or dairy and cause major immune reactions.

When is the best time of year to eat tomatoes?
Tomatoes are grown year-round, however they are best in late summer into early fall.  China is the biggest exporter of tomatoes, followed by the United States.

How should I store tomatoes?
They should be stored at room temperature, however if they are very ripe and you want to keep them around a couple of more days, store them in the refrigerator.  If you want to speed up the ripening process, put them in a paper bag with a banana or avocado.

Tomato Recipes

2. Fire-roasted Tomato Chipotle Salsa

This recipe was recreated from Mark Miller’s salsa of the same name in The Great Salsa Book.