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Jewish Recipes --> Jewish and Israeli Foods --> Tomato

The tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) is a plant in the Solanaceae or nightshade family, native to Central and South America, from Mexico to Peru. It is a short-lived perennial plant, grown as an annual plant, typically growing to 1-3 m tall, with a weakly woody stem that usually scrambles over other plants.

Recipes: Tomato Recipes

The leaves are 10-25 cm long, pinnate, with 5-9 leaflets, each leaflet up to 8 cm long, with a serrated margin; both the stem and leaves are densely glandular-hairy.

The flowers are 1-2 cm across, yellow, with five pointed lobes on the corolla; they are borne in a cyme of 3-12 together. The fruit is an edible, brightly colored (usually red, from the pigment lycopene) berry, 1-2 cm diameter in wild plants, commonly much larger in cultivated forms.

History and distribution

Early history

According to Andrew F. Smith's The Tomato in America, the tomato probably originated in the highlands on the west coast of South America. Smith notes that there is no evidence that the tomato was cultivated or even eaten before the Spanish arrived. Other researchers, however, have pointed out that this is not conclusive, as many other fruits in continuous cultivation in Peru are not present in the very limited historical record. Much horticultural knowledge was lost after the arrival of Europeans, as the Roman Catholic Church had a policy of burning pre-Columbian information as pagan.

 In any case, by some means the tomato migrated to Central America. Maya and other peoples in the region used the fruit in their cooking, and it was being cultivated in southern Mexico, and probably in other areas, by the sixteenth century. It is thought that the Pueblo believed that those who witnessed the ingestion of tomato seeds were blessed with powers of divination. The large, lumpy tomato, a mutation from a smoother, smaller fruit, originated and was encouraged in Central America. Smith states that this variant is the direct ancestor of some modern cultivated tomatoes.

Tomatoes in Italy

Because the plant was clearly similar to its nightshade congeners, it was assumed for years to be poisonous in Italy, where it was grown as a decorative plant. Eventually the peasant classes discovered that it could be eaten when more desirable food was scarce. This eventually developed into a whole cuisine of tomato dishes, as the wonders of the fruit became obvious. But this took several centuries, wide acceptance not happening until the 18th century.

Spanish distribution

After the Spanish conquest of South America, the Spanish distributed the tomato throughout their colonies in the Caribbean. They also brought it to the Philippines, from which point it moved to southeast Asia and then the entire Asian continent.

The Spanish also brought the tomato to Europe. It grew easily in Mediterranean climates, and cultivation began in the 1540s. It was probably eaten shortly after it was introduced, though it was certainly being used as food by the early 1600s in Spain. The earliest discovered cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692, though the author had apparently obtained these recipes from Spanish sources.

Tomatoes in Britain

The tomato plant was not grown in England until the 1590s, according to Smith. One of the earliest cultivators was John Gerard, a barber-surgeon. Gerard's Herbal, published in 1597, and largely plagiarized from continental sources, is also one of the earliest discussions of the tomato in England. Gerard knew that the tomato was eaten in both Spain and Italy. Nonetheless, he believed that it was poisonous (tomato leaves and stems are indeed poisonous but the fruit is safe). Gerard's views were influential, and the tomato was considered unfit for eating (though not necessarily poisonous) for many years in Britain and its North American colonies. By the mid 1700s, however, tomatoes were widely eaten in Britain, and before the end of that century the Encyclopedia Britannica stated that the tomato was "in daily use" in soups, broths, and as a garnish. Tomatoes were originally known as 'Love Apples', possibly based on a mistranslation of the Italian name pomo d'oro (golden apple) as pomo d'amoro.

North America

Smith states that the earliest reference to tomatoes in British North America is from 1710, when herbalist William Salmon reported seeing them in what is today South Carolina. They may have been introduced from the Caribbean. By the mid-18th century they were cultivated on some Carolina plantations, and probably in other parts of the South as well. It is possible that some people continued to think tomatoes were poisonous at this time, and in general they were grown more as ornamental plants than as food. Cultured people like Thomas Jefferson, who ate tomatoes in Paris and sent some seeds home, knew the tomato was edible, but many of the less well-educated did not.

However, according to Smith, this changed in the early 19th century, first in the Southern states and then throughout the country, tomatoes began to be used regularly as food. In some regions this may have happened quite quickly; for example, in an 1824 speech before the Albemarle Agricultural Society, Jefferson's son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph discussed the transformation of Virginia farming due to the introduction of new crops. He mentioned how tomatoes were virtually unknown ten years earlier, but by 1824 everyone was eating them because it was believed they kept one's blood pure in the heat of summer.

As Randolph's speech shows, medicinal powers were sometimes attributed to tomatoes. The idea that tomatoes could be used as a curative was fully developed by Dr. John Cook Bennett, who believed that tomatoes could treat diarrhea, dyspepsia, and other stomach ailments. Bennett's claims were widely publicized in the 1830s, in part because they were fun to mock, and in part because the tomato was still a novelty. Soon tomato pills were being sold, and people began to testify to miracle cures caused by the healing powers of tomatoes. They were even recommended as a cure for cholera (since tomatoes are a healthy food, they may have actually been a better alternative than other, decidedly harmful medical practices of the day). It is possible that it really did "cure" ailments which were due to shortages of fresh fruit in the diet.

The tomato mania lasted only a few years, but it enormously boosted tomato consumption, and contributed to an increase in tomato sales throughout the 1830s and 1840s. By the end of this period, Smith demonstrates, tomatoes were an established part of the American diet.

Tomatoes in France

France is home to the Carolina; a rare indeterminate open-pollinated variety of tomato which possesses the tanginess of Brandywine and the stature and externalities of the Early Swedish i.e. IPB. First noted by Italian monk Giacomo Tiramisunelli and his "companion" Andrea di Milininese somewhere near Bordeaux. More modern researches such as Dragos Niculae et al. and Nicolas Dela Nisan claim belgium as the birthplace of the variety. Either way the Carolina is considered a rare delicacy amongst tomato-connoisseurs throughout France and beyond; it is the only variety of tomato traditionally served with Ortolan (fig feed songbird). Claims that a San diego based U.S. biotech company is trying to genetically modify the Carolina to extend it's potential geographic growth range has set off a minor furor in Bordeaux. With the president of a belg agro-commune, Victor DePlata, threatening extreme action.

Cultivation and uses

The tomato is now grown world-wide for its edible fruits, with thousands of cultivars having been selected with varying fruit types, and for optimum growth in differing growing conditions. Cultivated tomatoes vary in size from cherry tomatoes, about the same 1-2 cm size as the wild tomato, up to 'beefsteak' tomatoes 10 cm or more in diameter. The most widely grown commercial tomatoes tend to be in the 5-6 cm diameter range. Most cultivars produce red fruit, but a number of cultivars with yellow or orange fruit are also available. Tomatoes grown for canning are often elongated, 7-9 cm long and 4-5 cm diameter; these are known as plum tomatoes.

Tomatoes are one of the most common garden vegetables in the United States, and along with zucchini have a reputation for out producing the needs of the grower.

As in most sectors of agriculture, there is increasing demand in developed countries for organic tomatoes, as well as heirloom tomatoes to make up for perceived flavor and texture faults in commercial tomatoes. Quite a few seed merchants and banks provide a large selection of heirloom seeds, which are often organically produced as well.

Varieties and cultivars

There are a great many tomato varieties grown for various purposes. This section attempts a listing of some of the more common varieties. Heirloom varieties are becoming increasingly popular, particularly among home gardeners and organic producers, since they tend to produce more interesting and flavorful crops at the possible cost of some disease resistance. Hybrid plants remain common, however, since they tend to be heavier producers and sometimes combine unusual characteristics of heirloom tomatoes with the ruggedness of conventional commercial tomatoes.

Tomato varieties are roughly divided into several categories, based mostly on shape and size. "Slicing" or "globe" tomatoes are the usual tomatoes of commerce; beefsteak tomatoes are large tomatoes often used for sandwiches and similar applications; plum tomatoes or paste tomatoes are bred with a higher solid content for use in tomato sauce and paste; and cherry tomatoes are small, often sweet tomatoes generally eaten whole in salads.

Tomatoes are also commonly classified as determinate or indeterminate. Determinate, or bush, types bear a full crop all at once and top off at a specific height; they are often good choices for container growing. Indeterminate varieties develop into vines that never top off and continue producing until killed by frost. As an intermediate ground, there are plants sometimes known as "vigorous determinate" or "semi-determinate"; these top off like determinates but produce a second crop after the initial crop.

Commonly grown varieties include:

  • Beefsteak VFN (a common disease-resistant hybrid)
  • Better Boy
  • Big Boy (a very common garden cultivar in the United States)
  • Brandywine (a pink beefsteak type with a considerable number of substrains)
  • Early Girl (an early-maturing globe type)
  • Gardener's Delight (a smaller English variety)
  • Juliet (a grape tomato developed as a substitute for the rare Santa F1)
  • Marmande (a beefsteak variety from southern France; available commercially in the US as UglyRipe) These unique-shaped tomatoes may look ugly with their wrinkled appearance but the UglyRipe taste is anything but. The flavor of these unique tomatoes is so exceptional that they are quickly becoming the gourmet favorite among chefs and consumers alike.
  • Moneymaker (an English greenhouse variety)
  • Mortgage Lifter (a popular heirloom beefsteak)
  • Patio (bred specifically for container gardens)
  • Roma VF (a plum tomato common in supermarkets)
  • Rutgers (an heirloom commercial variety)
  • San Marzano (a plum tomato popular in Italy)
  • Santa F1 (a closely guarded Chinese grape tomato cultivar popular in the USA and parts of southeast Asia)
  • Sweet 100 (a very prolific cherry tomato)

Most modern tomato varieties are smooth-surfaced, but older tomato cultivars (and some modern beefsteaks) often show pronounced ribbing, a feature that may have been common to virtually all pre-Columbian varieties. In addition, tomatoes come in colors other than red, including yellow, orange, pink and purple, though such tomatoes are not widely available in markets.

There is also a considerable gap between commercial and home gardener varieties; home varieties are often bred for flavor to the exclusion of all other qualities, while commercial varieties are bred for such factors as consistent size and shape, disease and pest resistance, and suitability for mechanized picking and shipping.

Diseases and pests

Tomato cultivars vary widely in their resistance to disease. Modern hybrids focus on improving disease resistance over the heirloom plants. One common tomato disease is tobacco mosaic virus, and for this reason smoking or use of tobacco products should be avoided around tomatoes. Various forms of mildew and blight are also common tomato afflictions, which is why tomato varieties are usually marked with letters like VFN, which refers to disease resistance to verticillium wilt. fusarium fungus, and nematodes.

Some common tomato pests are tomato hornworms, aphids, cabbage loopers, whiteflies, tomato fruit worms, flea beetles, and Colorado potato beetles.


In the wild, original state, tomatoes required cross pollination; they were much more self incompatible than domestic cultivars. As a floral device to reduce selfing, the pistils of wild varieties extended farther out of the flower than today's varieties. The stamens were, and remain, entirely within the closed corolla.

As tomatoes were moved from their native areas, their traditional pollinators, (probably a species of halictid bee) did not move with them. The trait of self fertilely (or self pollenizing) became an advantage and domestic cultivars of tomato have been selected to maximize this trait. This is not the same as self-pollination, despite the common claim that tomatoes do so. That tomatoes pollinate themselves poorly without outside aid is clearly shown in greenhouse situations where pollination must be aided by artificial wind, vibration of the plants (one brand of vibrator is a wand called an "electric bee" that is used manually), or more often today, by cultured bumblebees.

The anther of a tomato flower is shaped like a hollow tube, with the pollen produced within the structure rather than on the surface, as with most species. The pollen moves through pores in the anther, but very little pollen is shed without some kind of outside motion.

The best source of outside motion is a sonicating bee such as a bumblebee or the original wild halictid pollinator. In an outside setting, wind or biological agents provide sufficient motion to produce commercially viable crops.

Hydroponic and greenhouse cultivation

Tomatoes are often grown in greenhouses in cooler climates, and indeed there are varieties such as the British "Moneymaker" and a number of cultivars grown in Siberia that are specifically bred for indoor growing. In more temperate climates it is not uncommon to start seeds for future transplant in greenhouses during the late winter as well.

Hydroponic tomatoes are also available, and the technique is often used in hostile growing environments as well as high-density plantings.

Picking and ripening

Tomatoes are often picked unripe, and ripened in storage with ethylene. Ethylene is the plant hormone produced by many fruits and acts as the cue to begin the ripening process. These tend to keep longer, but have poorer flavor and a mealier, starchier texture than tomatoes ripened on the plant. They may be recognized by their color, which is more pink or orange than the ripe tomato's deep red.

Recently, stores have begun selling "tomatoes on the vine" which are ripened still connected to a piece of vine. These tend to have more flavor (at a price premium) than artificially-ripened tomatoes, but still may not be the equal of local garden produce.

Also relatively recently, slow-ripening cultivars of tomato have been developed by crossing a non-ripening variety with ordinary tomato cultivars. Cultivars were selected whose fruits have a long shelf life and at least reasonable flavor.

Modern uses of tomatoes

Tomatoes are now eaten freely throughout the world. Today, their consumption is believed to benefit the heart. Lycopene, one of nature's most powerful antioxidants, is present in tomatoes and has been found to be beneficial in preventing prostate cancer, among other things.

Botanically a fruit, the tomato is generally thought of and used as a vegetable: it's more likely to be part of a sauce or a salad than eaten whole as a snack, let alone as part of a dessert (though, depending on the variety, they can be quite sweet, especially roasted).

Tomatoes are used extensively in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, especially Italian ones. The tomato has an acidic property that is used to bring out other flavors. This same acidity makes tomatoes especially easy to preserve in home canning as tomato sauce or paste. The first to commercially can tomatoes was Harrison Woodhull Crosby in Jamesburg, New Jersey. Tomato juice is often canned and sold as a beverage. Unripe green tomatoes can also be used to make salsa, be breaded and fried, or pickled.

The town of Buñol, Spain annually celebrates La Tomatina, a festival centered on an enormous tomato fight. Tomatoes are also a popular "non-lethal" throwing weapon in mass protests, and there is a common tradition of throwing rotten tomatoes at bad actors or singers on a stage although this tradition is more symbolic as of today.

Because to be most known by tomatoes growth and production in Mexico, the mexican state of Sinaloa takes like symbol the tomato.[2]

Culinary uses of tomatoes include:

  • Tomato paste
  • Tomato purée
  • Tomato pie
  • Gazpacho (Andalusian cuisine)
  • Ketchup
  • Pa amb tomàquet (Catalan cuisine)
  • Pizza
  • Spaghetti (Italian cuisine)


Most tomatoes today are picked before fully ripe. They are bred to continue ripening, but the enzyme that ripens tomatoes stops working when it reaches temperatures below 12.5 °C. Once an unripe tomato drops below that temperature, it will not continue to ripen. Once fully ripe, tomatoes can be stored in the refrigerator, but are best eaten at room temperature.

Tomato legends

There are many legends about the tomato. For example, it has been claimed that tomatoes were not widely eaten in the U.S until the late 1800s. It has sometimes been claimed that tomatoes were considered aphrodisiacs and so were shunned by the Puritans. Many legends also maintain that the tomato was introduced into the U.S. by one particular person. Thomas Jefferson is sometimes mentioned, but the most famous legend of this sort was introduced by Joseph S. Sickler in the mid-1900s, and became the subject of a CBS broadcast of You Are There in 1949. The story goes that the lingering doubts about the safety of the tomato in the United States were largely put to rest in 1820, when Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson announced that at noon on September 26, he would eat a basket of tomatoes in front of the Salem, New Jersey courthouse. Reportedly, a crowd of more than 2,000 persons gathered in front of the courthouse to watch the poor man die after eating the poisonous fruits, and were shocked when he lived. In his book, Smith notes that there is little, if any, historical evidence for any of these legends, and that they continue to be repeated largely because they are good stories.

It is also said that the tomato became popular in France during the French Revolution, because the revolutionaries' iconic color was red, and at one point it was suggested that they should eat red food as a show of loyalty. Since European royalty was still leery of the nightshade-related tomato, it apparently was the perfect choice. This may also be why the first reported use of the tomato in the U.S. was in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1812, because of the French influence in that region.


Botanical classification

In 1753 the tomato was placed in the genus Solanum by Linnaeus as Solanum lycopersicum L. (derivation, 'lyco', wolf, plus 'persicum', peach, i.e., "wolf-peach"). However, in 1768, Philip Miller placed it in its own genus, and he named it Lycopersicon esculentum. This name came into wide use, but was in breach of the plant naming rules. Technically the combination Lycopersicon lycopersicum (L.) H.Karst. would be correct, but this name (published in 1881) has hardly ever been used. Therefore it was decided to conserve the well-known Lycopersicon esculentum, making this the correct name for the tomato when it is placed in the genus Lycopersicon.

However, genetic evidence (e.g. Peralta & Spooner, 2001) has now shown that Linnaeus was correct in the placement of the tomato in the genus Solanum, making the Linnaean name correct; if Lycopersicon is excluded from Solanum, Solanum is left as a paraphyletic taxon. Despite this, it is likely that the exact taxonomic placement of the tomato will be controversial for some time to come, with both names found in the literature.

Fruit or vegetable?

Botanically speaking a tomato is the ovary, together with its seeds, of a flowering plant, i.e. a fruit. However, from a culinary perspective the tomato is typically served as a meal, or part of a main course of a meal, meaning that it would be considered a vegetable (a culinary term which has no botanical meaning).

This argument has led to actual legal implications in the United States. In 1887, U.S. tariff laws which imposed a duty on vegetables but not on fruits caused the tomato's status to become a matter of legal importance. The U.S. Supreme Court settled this controversy in 1893, declaring that the tomato is a vegetable, using the popular definition which classifies vegetables by use, that they are generally served with dinner and not dessert. The case is known as Nix v. Hedden.

It should be noted that strictly speaking the holding of the case applies only to the interpretation of the Tariff Act of March 3, 1883 and not much else. The court does not purport to reclassify tomato for botanical or for any other purpose other then paying a tax under a tariff act.

In concordance with this classification, the tomato has been proposed as the state fruit of New Jersey.

In Europe the tomato is classified (correctly, botanically speaking) as a fruit.


The pronunciation of tomato differs in different English speaking countries; it can either be pronounced to-MAY-toe or to-MAA-toe. The difference is dialectical; British English and Commonwealth English, and older generations of US Southern English speakers typically saying to-MAA-toe, while American English speakers have a tendency to say to-MAY-toe. Most or all languages apart from English have a word that corresponds more to the to-MAA-toe pronunciation, including the original Nahuatl word whence they are all taken.

The word's dual pronunciations were immortalized in Gershwin's 1937 song "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" ("You like po-tay-to and I like po-tah-to / You like to-may-to and I like to-mah-to"), and have become a symbol for nitpicking pronunciation disputes. In this capacity it has even become an American slang term: saying "to-may-toe, to-mah-toe" when presented with two choices can mean "What's the big deal? There's no real difference." (note though that Gershwin's spelling "to-mah-to" does not match British English pronunciation).

Tomato records

The heaviest tomato ever was one of 3.51 kg (7 lb 12 oz), of the cultivar 'Delicious', grown by Gordon Graham of Edmond, Oklahoma in 1986. The largest tomato plant grown, was of the cultivar 'Sungold' and reached 19.8 m (65 ft) length, grown by Nutriculture Ltd (UK) of Mawdesley, Lancashire, UK, in 2000.

Sept 2005 - 2014 - Kosher Recipes - Kosher Cooking - Jewish Cooking - Jewish Recipes - Jewish Foods- Jewish Foods
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Tomato.