Tomatoes have remarkable nutritional values: they contain important molecules such as carotenoids, vitamin E and some flavonoids , but also vitamins C, B6 and B3 , phenolic acids and glycosylated flavonoids . But, they are also an important source of minerals and dietary fiber. In addition, they only have 19 calories per 100 grams and therefore it is the perfect food to be included in the weight loss diet.
At the heart of the Mediterranean Diet , even if originally imported from other continents, tomatoes combine with many foods and are a real mine of nutrients . When buying, the color of the tomatoes is an important aspect. They must have their typical varietal color, meaning not only the characteristic bright red, but also the various shades of red, more or less full or streaked with some varieties. If, rubbing the fingers on the part around the stalk, the typical aroma of the tomato is released to the nose, the fruit is ripe .
Let ‘s find out their nutritional properties, the benefits and the best recipes in the kitchen.
Tomatoes: what they are
Tomatoes are considered superfoods: scientific research has long allowed to demonstrate their beneficial influence on a number of functions of the human body . Even the name, ” Golden apple “, is ideal for describing the precious help they offer every day, especially to those who follow the Mediterranean Diet. A diet that has enhanced the use of tomato , both fresh and transformed into preserves, making it the symbol of a healthy and correct lifestyle.
Tomatoes are an annual herbaceous plant of the Solanaceae family ( Solanum lycopersicum, L. ), Native to the western part of South America. To grow well, in fact, it needs a warm-temperate climate. From South and Central America it has well acclimatized in the Mediterranean area, especially in Italy, which, in addition to an excellent sun exposure, enjoys considerable water availability, important for its development.
The plant has a height of 2 meters but tends to bend to the ground under the weight of its fruits. It has a main root that goes down to more than 1 meter in depth and branches into a large root system. Some varieties are smaller and have a bushy habit.
Dimensions and shapes change completely according to the specific variety . On the market stalls you can find from the Italian Giant Tomato to the so-called Ox Heart such as the Tomato of Belmonte or the Tuscan Bovio Tomato , all of extra large size , up to the smallest variety of the cherry tomato and the date tomato . In the middle, a fascinating world of tomato varieties , each with its own characteristics of flavor and use.
Is tomato a fruit or a vegetable?
It is difficult to establish whether tomatoes are fruits or vegetables : genetically they are a little “straddling” these two worlds . In the guidelines of the USDA , the United States Department of Agriculture, tomatoes are listed as vegetables.
The American Supreme Court also dealt with the matter : in 1893 the High Court was called upon to decide whether imported tomatoes should be taxed according to the Tariff Act of 1883, which applied only to vegetables and not to fruits . Although both sides cited the definitions given by the dictionary of the two words, the court decided that tomato is considered a vegetable by voting unanimously.
Where the tomatoes come from
The wild tomato is native to western South America (Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and the Galapagos Islands). It was the peoples of the Maya who brought tomato cultivation to Central America . Already between 750 and 500 a. C. the domestication of some wild varieties of the plant took place: over the centuries the varieties were selected and improved to make their fruits larger and more suitable for consumption. So the tomato went all the way to the Atzeks, who planted large areas of tomato in southern Mexico , until European colonizers arrived.
It was in that area that, returning from the expeditions between 1519 and 1521, Hernán Cortés told of the tomato : in a short time the seeds were brought to Spain by the colonists and religious engaged in those areas of conquest.
Tomato appeared in Italy very early. The geopolitical proximity between the small Italian courts and the Spain of the Bourbons, which at the time boasted extensive domains in our territory, on October 31, 1548 allowed the tomato to be known in Pisa for the first time. Cosimo de ‘Medici, in fact, received a basket of tomatoes born from seeds donated to his wife, Eleonora di Toledo , by her father, Viceroy of the Kingdom of Naples.
The spread of the tomato in Italy and Europe was very slow and did not enjoy great success. It was probably in fact varieties rich in solanine, which were not very digestible. The plant, therefore, was relegated to ornamental purposes only until the beginning of the XVIII century.
Furthermore, with the first gastronomic experiments, tomatoes began to be used, finally reaching the palates in the 19th century . At the same time, tomato cultivation became increasingly important, allowing this vegetable to become a symbol of the Italian and Mediterranean production tradition in the world.
Nutritional properties of tomatoes
With 19 calories per 100 grams , in tomatoes you will find 94 g of water, 1 g of protein, 0.2 g of lipids, 3.5 g of carbohydrates, 2 g of fiber. Here are the nutritional properties of the tomato in detail .
In particular, the tomato provides a considerable amount of vitamin C , which however oxidizes easily and degrades during cooking (about 60% is lost when cooked in water). For this reason, tomatoes should also be eaten fresh, freshly cut, and not just cooked.
The function of lycopene and other antioxidants
Among the carotenoids, the one in which the tomato is richer is lycopene, responsible for the characteristic red coloration of the mature product: an important antioxidant, also because it does not disperse with cooking. It is the main carotenoid present in ripe tomatoes and on average, its content is equal to about 30 mg per kg (it covers about 80-90% of all the pigments present).
Like beta-carotene, lycopene is part of the carotenoid class, but unlike beta-carotene does not become vitamin A in the body . Its antioxidant power has been linked to the reduced incidence of chronic and degenerative diseases observed among Mediterranean populations who traditionally consume tomato.
But lycopene isn’t the only antioxidant in tomato . Some phenolic compounds are also present. The tomato peel , for example, contains some polyphenols , especially flavonols, such as rutin, quercetin glycoside, and kampferol glycosides . Other antioxidant compounds are flavanones, naringenin and, among phenolic acids, chlorogenic acid , which is the one present in significant quantities.
The tomatoes are considered very important foods for your health: see in detail their beneficial effects.
- Antioxidant action. Tomato is an excellent source of antioxidants. The best known, as already seen, is probably lycopene , responsible for the typical red color of this fruit. Lycopene, together with other carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin E and phenolic compounds, helps to defend the body from the action of free radicals , removing chronic degenerative diseases and cardiovascular diseases . In particular, it appears that lycopene is particularly effective for protection from skin cancer.
- Anti-inflammatory that boosts the immune system. The vitamin C content , in synergy with the carotenoids, is able to influence inflammatory processes, in particular for those suffering from asthma and bronchitis . This mix contributes to strengthening the immune system, constituting a valid aid especially in cases of pathological situations that reduce its functionality.
- Low calorie, remineralizing, diuretic, refreshing. Tomato is perfect for those who have to lose weight and aim for a healthy diet. It is a low -calorie food , with few sugars that can be immediately assimilated, fat-free, consisting mainly of water and with a rich content of minerals and trace elements . This causes tomatoes to have great remineralizing and thirst quenching effects, which are essential in the warmer months to protect themselves from the danger of dehydration.
- Protective of the urogenital system. The high water content stimulates urination, eliminating toxins and uric acids. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant characteristics of tomatoes reduce the risk of urinary tract infections and the development of tumor formations in the bladder and prostate.
- It helps the functionality of the intestine. Thanks to the good fiber content , the tomato helps the transit of the food bolus. One way to improve constipation problems is to drink tomato juice every morning.
The other benefits of tomatoes
The benefits of tomatoes don’t end there. In fact, in addition to the functions already listed, tomatoes are able to:
- help digestion. Although considered indigestible due to the presence of solanine (but only in unripe tomatoes), the tomato, on the other hand, performs a helping action towards those who have digestive difficulties due to the content of malic, arabic and lactic acids.
- Protect eye health. The zeaxanthin contained in tomatoes is a carotenoid that contributes with its antioxidant properties to protect eyesight, particularly reducing the risk of cataracts and senile macular degeneration.
- Protect skin and bone health. Thanks to the presence of vitamin C, tomatoes are able to affect bone and skin health. This effect is due to collagen, an essential component of the skin, hair, nails and connective tissue, bone tissue, dentine of the teeth produced precisely by vitamin C. In addition, tomatoes contain a good percentage of vitamin K and small amount of calcium, elements that help strengthen bones.
- Helps prevent risk factors in diabetes. A 2000 article in Diabetes Care reports a study with important results also for type 2 diabetic patients. The results obtained suggest that the consumption of tomato juice increases the levels of plasma lycopene and the intrinsic resistance of LDL cholesterol to oxidation.
Before talking about contraindications, it must be emphasized that in tomatoes there are other molecules such as:
- solanine , which has a moderately toxic action : gastritis and hemolytic phenomena can occur following the ingestion of abundant quantities of immature tomatoes. With cooking, solanine is largely inactivated. Solanine is mainly contained in the peel, therefore it is good practice to peel unripe tomatoes before using them as a food.
- tomatin or lycopersicin , an alkaloid that the fruit self-produces only if stimulated by fungal infections and mechanical damage; during maturation, the tomatin is metabolized until it completely disappears. Tomatin is scarcely toxic to humans, has bacteriostatic and mycostatic action.
Normally the tomato is well tolerated, but its content of histamine and some allergenic proteins is capable of causing even serious allergic reactions . The subjects most at risk are people who have already shown sensitivity to pollen and grasses.
Therefore, the reactions can be contact dermatitis, simply after handling or cutting the tomatoes, or itching in the mouth and throat with possible swelling following the ingestion of even small quantities.
finally, tomato lectin can interact with the gastro-intestinal mucosa and trigger inflammation , alteration of the immune system and poor absorption of nutrients. For this reason, tomato is not recommended for those suffering from stomach acid.
The main types of tomato that we find on the sales counters are:
Smooth and round in shape, tending to medium to large sizes. Its name derives from the fact of growing on the “branches” in cluster formation with other fruits. Rich in pulp and with an easily disposable skin, the coppery is very versatile .
Therefore, it lends itself to be eaten raw in a salad or stuffing the two halves cut, for example with tuna, boiled eggs, capers or other ingredients. But it is also excellent cooked, both in sauce and au gratin in the oven or stewed with other vegetables.
The cluster tomato is globular or has a cylindrical shape. It has an average size and a fruit is around 130 grams in weight. It can be eaten fresh, but offers the best of itself in cooked dishes, because it holds up well even long cooking.
Some types of this category are:
Manduria rod , excellent Serbian tomato (i.e. suitable for long storage) and particularly suitable for drying
Sardinian camone , with firm and crunchy pulp, excellent in salads thanks to its balanced, slightly acidic taste
Vesuvian , with an intense red color and excellent characteristics in the kitchen for preparing sauces and preserves. The Vesuvian cherry tomato is the pride of Neapolitan cuisine, it is used in many traditional recipes, such as spaghetti with clams and the famous Neapolitan pizza.
It is a tomato increasingly requested by consumers because it is very appetizing, sweet and easy to consume , just like a cherry, and not only in shape and size. It is called in many ways from region to region.
Cherry, tidbit or tomato aperitif
however you want to call it, it is ideal for the preparation of aperitifs and raw skewers with mozzarella or olives, but also in salads or cold pasta or for a cheerful garnish of a second dish.
Salad or table tomato
The varietal group of the salad tomato includes a vast assortment of tomatoes which must be harvested when not yet fully ripe since, preferably, they should be eaten raw and together with salads.
But, the most appreciated form is the round-smooth one , of large to small size according to the markets, but also ribbed berry varieties are widespread.
The name refers to the classic ribbed shape of the fruit . Grown both outdoors and in a greenhouse, this tomato has a bright red color, with a fleshy and seed-less pulp . Eclectic and versatile , it is excellent as raw in a salad, as cooked as an ingredient in sauces or even stuffed with a filling of rice and mint.
How to choose tomatoes
The natural ripening period of tomatoes is from May to the end of September : they are therefore summer products.
But, in reality, today tomatoes can be found on sales counters throughout the year, thanks to greenhouse cultivation techniques that allow you to enjoy the goodness of this product in any season.
Generally the tomatoes on sale are grown all around the world , except for some particular varieties. They are produced both in the field and in the greenhouse.
Tomato must be firm and compact to the touch. Some varieties are softer, but in any case the fresh product must not appear too yielding at light pressure and above all must not appear swollen.
If the tomato purchased is not yet fully ripe, you can wait a few days before consuming it.
In fact, the tomato, if collected not too early, manages to complete the ripening even away from the plant (in a humid environment at 20 ° C it can ripen in 3-4 days).
How to use
How to use tomatoes depends very much on the variety . Some are suitable for predominantly fresh consumption , others are instead indicated for storage or for other uses, such as drying.
Fresh tomatoes can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 or 6 days from purchase.
A thorough washing is sufficient to clean the tomatoes , removing the stalk only after having washed them . If you want to peel them, they must be blanched in boiling water . After washing them, you need to cut a small cut on the top of the tomatoes , to prevent the internal pressure caused by the heat from making them explode. Then, they must be scalded for one minute in boiling water, leaving them to cool for a few moments, then the peel can be easily eliminated.
There are numerous ways to store tomatoes. If you do not wish to use industrially produced preserves, the tomatoes can be preserved dried , in a natural jar after cooking in a water bath, in the form of the classic tomato puree , as a jam or in the ketchup sauce version.
The long life of tomatoes: peeled, chopped pulp and paste
One of the main advantages of tomatoes is that they can be transformed into many different preparations : in this way, even if you choose only seasonal products, you can consume them all year round.
The most renowned qualities of peeled tomatoes are those that on the label are declared ” superior “. The wording ” superior ” indicates that they contain more pulp (for peeled tomatoes, the indication of the drained net weight is mandatory ), while other words (extra, natural, tasty) in the case of preserves have no official meaning that characterize their qualities. The color must be bright red, uniform, without green, black or yellowish parts, while the smell and taste must be characteristic and harmonious(not too sweet, nor acidic), without a bitter or cooked aftertaste. As regards the shape and consistency, the peeled tomatoes must be firm, of a homogeneous size, and keep as much as possible the natural shape of the fresh fruit.
In addition to the addition of partially concentrated tomato juice, the law also allows salt to be added to the peeled tomatoes; in any case, the lower its content, the better it is preserved. The addition of calcium chloride is also allowed , which has the effect of increasing consistency: it is harmless but at concentrations just above 0.03% it can alter the taste of the product.
Finally, as regards the packaging, the quality peeled must be packed in boxes with stapled bottoms , with enameled internal walls and well protected side welding.
For the evaluation of flavor and color, the rules to follow follow those described for peeled tomatoes . The pieces must be of homogeneous size, without too small or too large fragments , moreover they must have a firm consistency and must not be easily pulped.
The color is a first quality index: working at too high temperatures (to reduce processing times or hide any defects of the tomatoes used), the pass assumes a dark red color and a characteristic cooked flavor, while operating at moderate heat it maintains a beautiful bright red color and retains a more fragrant flavor . Even the consistency is important: it must be homogeneous , with few seeds and no fibrous pieces or whole parts. The containers in glass , as well as allowing direct vision of the product, guarantee a perfect hygiene.
Another way to store tomatoes is to dry them : a very ancient preservation technique. It allows you to taste tomatoes even in winter: these are often seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, capers, oregano.
After being dried well in the sun or in the oven, the tomatoes must be completely covered with oil and the jars must be closed tightly and sterilized. Once opened, the oil must always continue to cover all the cherry tomatoes: if necessary you can add more.
Making them at home is not difficult: find out how to make them with the recipe of dried tomatoes and discover all their benefits!
Alternative uses of tomatoes
In addition to food uses, tomato is abundantly used in the cosmetics industry . Its pulp is used as the main ingredient of toning, nourishing and firming skin masks.
To soothe the effects of excessive insolation and to hydrate the skin, a tomato mixture can be created with a little olive oil and applied to the skin . The compound proves to be a cure-all even in the case of small domestic burns. Or you can apply a slice of tomato on the burnt part.
Finally, the detergent use of tomato must be taken into consideration : to clean the brass stained by verdigris , just rub it with the pulp of a ripe tomato , then rinse it and polish it with a woolen cloth.
Tomato, the beauty ally
Here are some recipes for do-it-yourself tomato masks :
- Purifying mask for skin with acne . Those with oily, semi-oily or acne-prone skin can purify it thanks to the vitamins contained in tomatoes. Just blend the tomato pulp and spread it on the face for 15-20 minutes. At the end, rinse with cold water and apply specific moisturizing cream that does not contain oils. If you want to close the enlarged pores, you can add a few drops of lemon or chopped cucumber to the blended tomato pulp.
- Tomato scrub. Tomato is also ideal for nourishing the skin during a peeling, illuminating the complexion. To prepare the tomato scrub, just mix its pulp with oatmeal and apply everything on the face, with gentle circular movements. In the end, rinse your skin well and put on a refreshing tonic.
- Hair mask. Tomato manages to make hair brighter and softer. It is an aid in case of dandruff , but also in case of frizzy hair . To get rid of the typical electricity of this hair, in fact, just blend the tomato pulp, mixing it with a few tablespoons of olive oil or almonds or a few tablespoons of yogurt. Leave it on for about half an hour and then rinse well, subsequently applying the conditioner. For lasting results, you must repeat the application every 2 weeks.
As with all do-it-yourself remedies, in case of sensitive or allergic skin, ask your doctor or dermatologist for advice before using them.
Use in the kitchen
Tomato is the absolute protagonist of Mediterranean cuisine . From juices and appetizers, to sauces and first and second courses, to side dishes, cooked or raw, hot or cold, tomato is able to embellish countless recipes with its flavor. Indeed, the tomato manages to appear among the desserts in the form of jam.
Its lively color also allows it to be used as a garnish. And how not to mention pizza , where tomato is the fundamental ingredient in the preparation of the condiment of many types? To close, the tomato juice forms the basis of the cocktail called Bloody Mary , usually served as an aperitif, or Virgin Mary, the non-alcoholic version of the cocktail itself.
If you love tomatoes, discover all the light recipes with Tomatoes