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All About Tomatoes Fruit or Vegetable

Updated on December 27, 2016

The Right Tools for Tomato Sauce from Scratch

Deluxe Food Strainer and Sauce Maker by VICTORIO VKP250
Deluxe Food Strainer and Sauce Maker by VICTORIO VKP250

The best sauce comes from fresh ripe heirloom tomatoes, either from a Farmer's Market or your own garden and for that you need a sauce maker/strainer


Tomatoes Love Apples (Solanum lycopersicum)

Is there a “vegetable” more familiar than the tomato? This is the most popular vegetable in today’s home gardens, and it is grown worldwide but it was not always so popular. Tomatoes are native to Peru in South America, where wild tomatoes may still be found. Seafaring Mayan traders brought tomatoes to the Yucatan and the “tomatl” became highly prized by the Mayans in Mexico. Archeological finds show tomatoes being represented in pottery and inscribed on stone long before the arrival of Europeans. The tomato was introduced to Europe by early Spanish explorers during the Columbian Exchange, this was the time when foods were being exchanged between the Old World and the New World that were previously unknown outside their native lands. Tomatoes made their way quickly to the kingdom of Naples which at that time was a Spanish possession. Naples developed an obsession with tomatoes, while the Spanish liked tomatoes, Neapolitans loved them. This shows why so much of what we in the States think of as Italian food is really Neapolitan food, certainly Italian, but heavily reliant on tomatoes, pasta and pizza.

Many varieties

A variety of specific cultivars, including Brandywine (biggest red), Black Krim (lower left) and Green Zebra (top right)
A variety of specific cultivars, including Brandywine (biggest red), Black Krim (lower left) and Green Zebra (top right) | Source

Dave's Garden, Growing Tomatoes

Borough Market Photograph by Jack Gavigan, Borough Market in London, England on 28th November 2009
Borough Market Photograph by Jack Gavigan, Borough Market in London, England on 28th November 2009 | Source

We eat a lot of tomatoes

According to the California Tomato Growers Association, Americans consume nearly 80 lbs. of tomatoes per person each year. Used in sauces, salsas and ketchup, tomatoes adorn tables around the country and across the globe. Served fresh in salads or sliced for sandwiches, tomatoes provide the highest source of nutrients of any vegetable--except potatoes. This is not to say that tomatoes are nutrient dense, it is simply that we eat so many tomatoes that they supply a lot of nutrition.



The Attack of The Killer Tomato

Lycopene is a vital anti-oxidant that helps in the fight against cancerous cell formation as well as other kinds of health complications and diseases. The tomato has so much of this anti-oxidant that it derives its red color from the nutrient. Lycopene is not produced within the body so we need sources of Lycopene to make use of this powerful anti-oxidant. While other fruits and vegetables do contain this necessary health ingredient, no other fruit or vegetable has the high concentration of Lycopene. Studies involving the tomato have cropped up all over the world of medical science showing benefits in preventing cancer and heart disease as well as possibly trimming high cholesterol.
Cancers such as prostate cancer, cervical cancer, colon cancer, rectal cancer, and cancers of the stomach, mouth, pharynx, and esophagus have all been shown to be warded off by high levels of Lycopene. Researchers introduced Lycopene into pre-existing cancer cell cultures and the Lycopene prevented the continued growth of these cultures. Research is continuing but the body of existing evidence shows remarkable health benefits of eating a tomato

Grow Tomatoes in 5 Gallon Buckets

Heirloom Tomatoes

Your grandfather may have grown these
Your grandfather may have grown these | Source

What’s in a Name?

The Italians called tomatoes “pomodoro” or “golden apples,” possibly because the first tomatoes were yellow but also possibly because the first tomatoes came to Italy by way of Morocco with the term “pomi di mori” (Moorish apple) In France the tomato became known initially as the “pommes de amour” (Apple of Love) possibly a Gallicized version of “pomi di mori.” In America, Thomas Jefferson raised tomatoes for his guests in 1781 and in existing recipes from Monticello tomatoes are used as if commonplace. However, tomatoes were not generally cultivated in the United States until 1835, up until then, many still believed them to be poisonous because they belong to the deadly nightshade family, which includes belladonna and mandrake both fairly toxic. In 1860, Philadelphia’s Godey’s Lady’s Book, the first magazine for women, wrote about tomatoes: “This delicious and wholesome vegetable… is not one time in a hundred more than half cooked.” To acquire the proper flavor, tomatoes should be cooked for three hours; if cooked for only one, you would have nothing more than a sour porridge” Campbell’s Soups came out with condensed tomato soup in 1897, so the tomato was firmly planted in American cuisine from that point on.

Grape tomatoes


Many Different Varieties

Tomatoes come in hundreds of different colors, sizes and shapes, and are now being grown almost everywhere on Earth. Just in the past 20 years, world tomato production has doubled. In the United States, W Atlee Burpee, the largest supplier of vegetable and flower seeds by mall, sells over 100 varieties of tomato-the most popular being Supersteak hybrid VFN and Big Girl hybrid VE. Commercial growers have hybridized tomatoes for qualities such as thicker skin and lower moisture to make them easier to harvest and transport or to use in specific purposes such as sauce or paste. Most of the tomatoes we see in the supermarket have been picked green and ripened in a warehouse with ethylene gas. Vine ripe are an obvious exception but the surest way to find a ripe, tasty and juicy tomato is to grow your own. Fortunately, for gardeners, there are still many varieties of heritage or heirloom tomatoes available from the seed companies. Many a happy home gardener has learned, the easiest variety to grow is the tiny cherry tomato and they are often the sweetest and most flavorful.

San Marzanos, ‘the Bible of tomatoes’


Determinate or Inderterminate

Tomato vines are classified as either heavy stemmed, bushy, determinate vines, or indeterminate vines with stems that continue growing until frost ends the season.
Determinate varieties usually don't require staking. They typically stop growing at a height of three feet. Unlike the indeterminate varieties, the fruit ripens over a limited period (2 to 4 weeks) which might be convenient if you want your tomatoes to ripen all at once for canning. They are more easily handled in a container since they are smaller plants but you get your entire crop at one time.

Indeterminate tomato varieties are the vining types that continue to grow taller (up to 10 feet or more) and produce fruit until frost kills the plant. They require staking or caging for support to avoid having their vines sprawl on the ground which can increase the risk of various fungal diseases. Whether a tomato is of indeterminate or determinate type makes no difference as to the final quality of the fruit, this class is mainly of interest to gardeners. Those gardening commercials that astound with plants that grow to 10 feet are offering nothing more than indeterminate plants, nothing unusual.


Is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable?

Scientifically speaking, a tomato is definitely a fruit. True fruits develop from the ovary in the base of the flower, and contain the seeds of the plant, that ought to settle things. However, in 1883 Congress passed a tariff act that placed a 10% duty on “vegetables in the natural state” but allowed fruits "green, ripe or dried" to enter the country duty-free. The Collector of Customs for the Port of New York, was a plum job, secured by political patronage but this time they had a reformer in the position named James T. Kilbreth and he wanted to do some collecting, he announced that tomatoes were "vegetables in their natural state" and therefore subject to the tariff. The importers sued, eventually arriving at the highest court of the land, and lost! The court issued an opinion that tomatoes, "like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, cauliflower, celery and lettuce, usually served at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meats which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits generally, as dessert." Justice Horace Gray asserted that tomatoes are vegetables "in the common language of the people."

The government does not know when to leave things alone, in 1981, G. William Hoagland, director of the Department of Agriculture's Division of Food and Nutrition Service, tried to meet President Reagan’s school-lunch budget cuts by declaring tomato ketchup to be a vegetable, this would save a lot of money compared to other, more expensive vegetables. Imagine trying to get kids to eat their peas compared to squeezing a little ketchup on a burger, it’s a no brainer, no? At least that time America failed to be tricked and parents actually want their kids to eat their peas, the department relieved Mr. Hoagland of his directorship and ketchup remains a condiment.

Beefsteak tomato
Beefsteak tomato | Source
Photograph by Jack Gavigan, Borough Market in London, England on 28th November 2009
Photograph by Jack Gavigan, Borough Market in London, England on 28th November 2009 | Source
Public Domaine
Public Domaine | Source

Which Tomatoes are the Best ?

First things first, what do you intend to do with them? Yeah, okay, I know, you’re going to eat them, but there are tomatoes best for canning, others best for sandwiches or salads and others best for cooking. Then of course there are lots of tomatoes that are best for making a profit for farmers and little else. Thousands of varieties with ever more coming on, they are still perfecting square tomatoes to match the square slices of bread for sandwiches, no word on flavor tho’.

Tomato varieties are divided into several categories, based mostly on shape and size.

· "Slicing" or "globe" tomatoes are the usual tomatoes of commerce, used for a wide variety of processing and fresh eating. They are the ones you'll find at the grocery store. They are smooth, round, and medium to large in size. Many colors of globe tomatoes are available. Examples of globe tomatoes include Celebrity, Yellow Taxi, and Black Prince. Frequently, this is the only choice available in the store so be forewarned, globe tomatoes are grown for ease of harvest and transportation, not for flavor.

· Beefsteak tomatoes are large tomatoes often used for sandwiches and similar applications. Their shape, thinner skin, and shorter shelf life means they are less available in markets than globe types but they are worth seeking in farmer’s markets. These are large to very large tomatoes that are typically wider than they are tall, flat instead of round. They can be irregular in shape compared to other tomatoes. Black Krim is a beefsteak tomato and as the name suggests their fruit is dark purple to almost black, beefsteaks come in a variety of colors from red to purple, yellow and black. Beefsteak tomatoes have excellent tomato flavor, far superior to typical supermarket tomatoes. Beefsteaks are heirloom tomatoes that your grandfather might have grown.

· Oxheart tomatoes can range in size up to beefsteaks. Oxheart tomatoes come in heart, strawberry or oblong shapes. They range in color from yellow to pink to red. Oxhearts are indeterminate tomatoes, which means they will grow and produce fruit until killed by frost. The plants can get as tall as 10 feet.

· Plum tomatoes, or paste tomatoes (including pear tomatoes), are bred with a higher solids content for use in tomato sauce and paste, and are usually oblong. Elongated tomatoes that are generally smooth. The pear shape like that of the yellow pear is distinctly smaller near the stem. The plum is more uniformly elongated than the pear shape. Roma tomatoes are plum tomatoes. Pear tomatoes are obviously pear-shaped, and are based upon the San Marzano types for a richer gourmet paste. Romas are frequently available in supermarkets and are a much better choice for flavor and cooking compared to globes.

· Cherry tomatoes are small and round, often sweet tomatoes generally eaten whole in salads. A healthy cherry tomato plant may bear hundreds of fruit. Cherry tomatoes are another good choice for flavor but of course they do not lend themselves well to slicing. These can be excellent snacks and stuffed cherry tomatoes can be wonderful hors d'oeuvres, try filling with cream cheese and pecans, meat salads or anything your imagination can dream up.

· Grape tomatoes, a more recent introduction, are smaller than cherry tomatoes and oblong, a variation on plum tomatoes, and used in salads. These can be quite sweet and great to eat out of hand but their diminutive size makes them difficult to stuff

· Campari tomatoes are a brand name, sweet and noted for their juiciness, low acidity, and lack of mealiness. Excellent flavor with good availability in markets but a little expensive. These tomatoes are deep red, round, and about the size of a golf ball. It is a hybrid that is grown and marketed by commercial Canadian hothouses and shipped throughout North America. They are redder than most store-bought tomatoes grown hydroponically and ripened on the vine. Because they are shipped with the vine still attached, they do, not have to be ripened with ethylene gas. The Campari has a great taste, firm skin, and sweet flavor. They are sold on the vine. Campari seeds are not available for sale to the home gardener. “Sunset Campari tomatoes are grown in a biologically controlled, herbicide free environment. Bumblebees and ladybugs are just a few of the natural predators used to create the perfect atmosphere to grow the perfect Campari Tomato!”

Dried tomatoes
Dried tomatoes | Source

What Can You Do With Out of Season Tomatoes

As I write this, it is the dog days of summer. Many of us are enjoying fresh, plump, juicy and flavorful tomatoes from the farm or garden. In a few months we will be back to the cardboard flavored, picked too green and designed to ship tomatoes that are always available. Make them into a confit, broil them to caramelize them, drain them to remove the juice and create "tomato water" (save it for cooking!), freeze them and make sauce, and add pineapple juice! The juice is said to replace the acidity and sweetness of a good tomato, add a little at a time, you're seasoning not making a pina colada. Adding my own opinion I will say the most obvious, dry them. Peel the tomatoes, slice in half and remove the seeds, then place the halves on a Teflon cookie sheet, sprinkle with a bit of sea salt and place in a cool oven, no hotter than 140 to 150 degrees. The process will take several hours and the tomatoes will come out leathery first then like parchment. Drying concentrates the flavor more than any other process mentioned. Be a little creative and sprinkle them with olive oil or truffle oil, season with garlic and or herbs. Dried tomatoes will need to be rehydrated for most uses but those dried in olive oil will be chewy and make a nice addition to salads, just slice them into julienne strips. Store in the freezer for months or the refrigerator for weeks.


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    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      6 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Imogen

      Yeah, the best tomatoes are wonderful but supermarket tomatoes are barely worth eating.

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 

      6 years ago from Southwest England

      Wow, this is a really comprehensive guide to tomatoes. They are such a versatile fruit/vegetable - I love them. Good stuff!

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      7 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Lobo

      Glad you're here

    • lobobrandon profile image

      Brandon Lobo 

      7 years ago

      Tomato - fruit or vegetable. An awesome hub. Great collection of info and display too is wonderful. Keep up the good work.

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      7 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx InTune, glad you dropped by

    • InTuneWithCooking profile image


      7 years ago from Australia

      Fantastic hub! The humble tomato has such a rich history, and is the basis for many meals in my house. Thank you for the link Chefsref!!

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      8 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Peter

      My neighbor's geese ate my entire crop of tomatoes recently so I'm eagerly waiting for some home grown

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      8 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Pinkchic and Livelonger

      Every time I write one of these I learn something new, Croatia has great names for tomatoes!

    • PETER LUMETTA profile image


      8 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

      Now I know why I like tomatoes so much. What a great article, I eat 2-5 a day. Thanks for the good news,


    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Fascinating! You've taught me everything I could possibly want to know about tomatoes, which is a lot considering how much I love them. Growing up in New Jersey (believe it or not) July/August tomatoes were something out of this world, with a scent and flavor that are impossible to describe. Thanks!

      In Croatian, the word for tomato is either 'paradajz' or "raj?ica", the latter of which derives from the word "raj" meaning paradise. Pretty apt, if you ask me.

    • Pinkchic18 profile image

      Sarah Carlsley 

      8 years ago from Minnesota

      Yum!! I absolutely love tomatoes and this article is great for lots of different reasons. Great information, great facts and great pictures - makes me want to eat some tomatoes :)


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