It is the time of the year to think about growing, eating, buying one of natures most wonderful and healthiest and certainly the most popular vegetable. Or is it a Fruit? For most people around the world it is classed as a Fruit, well actually it is also a Berry which grows on a vine-you knew that didn’t you?  This classification is different in the good old US of A. There it has been a vegetable since 1887, pre Donald days of course. Why? Because then Vegetables were taxed while fruits were not. So, it was designated as a Vegetable so the USA revenue could get their hands on some extra tax.

How does the humble Tomato compare with all the fruits and vegetables available today?

For me it beats them all. They are not so humble really.  Coming in a large variety of shapes and sizes-around 7500 different types in fact.  From the huge Beefsteak 10cm ones you slice up and put in your sandwiches to our favourites; the small cherry or grape tomatoes. Or try Tom berries- tiny tomatoes just 5mm in size. We use them as sweeties and pop them into our mouths as we pass the Tomato bowl, (low calories).  

The biggest, the longest and the brightest.

The heaviest known tomato was 3.51kgs (7lb.12oz), the biggest 65 feet long. They also come in a wide variety of Colours. Originally they were only in yellow but now the favourite is bright red. Now you can see them in pink, yellow/tangerine, green, purple, brown, black, and, maybe I was having one of those senior moments, but I am sure I have seen a blue one as well!  I am reliably informed that the way to choose the best tomatoes is to look for those with the fullest and deepest of colour.

Taste ranges are infinite! Tomatoes have been with us for thousands of years. Put them in your salads, your soups, your drinks, use them as key ingredients for so many of your dishes. Where would our top Chef’s be without Tomatoes? No tomatoes! Spanish and Italian cooks would have to totally relearn the art of cooking.

Tomatoes on the vine

What’s great about a tomato?

Pick them straight from the Vine. Have them cold or hot; even better cooked though, (cooking Tomatoes releases many more beneficial chemicals.  Rich in antioxidants like Lycopene and triglycerides. Stuffed full of Iron and natural sugar. Don’t worry about the science or hard to say names, tomatoes are a one stop health emporium. They love water; in fact they are 95% full of it so it is hardly surprising they are big drinkers.  Putting it all together it all means that the tomato is one of today’s miracle foods.  They are good for the Heart in providing a reduced risk of heart disease, lowering LDL Cholesterol, regulating the fats in the bloodstream helping your cardiovascular system, helps Bone health, even some kinds of Cancer benefit from the wonderful tomato. Pancreatic cancer, male Prostrate & female Breast Cancer and add in neurological diseases including Alzheimer’s disease.

Love your 5 a day?

Tomatoes are chock full of vitamins A, B1, B3, B6, C, E, K. Nutrients and Minerals.

Potassium, manganese, Phosphorus, Fibre, Glucose, Fructose, low in fat. The list is very long!.

Pomme d’Amour                

In France they call a tomato. ‘Pomme d’Amour’ or ‘Love Apple’.  Trust the French to make it sexy. It would be interesting to know how they came to call it by that name! In Italy it is called an Apple of Gold and elsewhere Apple of Paradise. Maybe I have been missing something here.

Warning! Tomatoes are part of the ‘deadly nightshade’ family.

A tomato is the edible fruit of ‘Solanum Lycopersicom’ which belongs to the ‘deadly’ nightshade family. If you think about it the nightshade berries bear a striking resemblance, albeit much smaller, to the vine of tomatoes.  It was used as a food by the Peruvian Aztecs as early 500BC in stews and soups. The Spanish Conquistadors may have been the first to transfer the small yellow tomato to Europe after defeating the Aztecs in Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City, in 1521, although historians think that Christopher Columbus may have taken some back as early as 1493.

Originally it was used more as a supplement to other foods as the fruit was considered poisonous.

It was around a 100 years later in the1590’s that UK people started growing them but again, they  mixed them as an ingredient to other dishes as they also suspected them to be poisonous. 

According to legend tomatoes were used by witches and sorcerers in potions. It was also called a ‘Wolf Peach’ following werewolf myths in Germany.

Today, tomatoes reputation has undergone a major change through cross-breeding and genetic changes and are seen as immensely beneficial to humans although the leaves of the tomato plant are slightly poisonous and should not be eaten or drank although the toxins in them are very low

Tomato plants can be toxic to dogs if they eat large amounts of the fruit, or chew plant stems or material.

Tomatoes were linked to several salmonella outbreaks between 1990 and 2005, and may have been the cause of a salmonella outbreak causing 172 illnesses in 18 US states in 2006, The 2008 United States salmonellas outbreak also caused the removal of tomatoes from stores and restaurants across the United States and parts of Canada, although other foods, including jalapeño and serrano peppers, may have been involved.

Anyone growing tomatoes will know that they can be subject to a number of diseases and pests.  Most common diseases are mildew and blight (LB) but there are other tomato afflictions such as verticillum wilt (V), fusarium wilt (F & FF- 1& 11), nematodes, (N) and tobacco mosaic virus (T) and Alternaria (A). What is less likely to be known is that tomatoes have an inbuilt defence mechanism. When they are green they contain a toxin called Tomatine which prevents early digestion by animals. When the fruit is attacked by pests it produces a hormone called systemin that stunts the insect’s growth and prevents it from doing too much damage. When buying tomato plants it is useful to note the letters and numbers following the disease name. These are hybrids known to provide protection against those particular diseases.  With the tobacco mosaic virus, handling cigarettes and other infected tobacco products can transmit the virus to tomato plants.

Many people assume that ‘splitting’ on growing or ripening fruit is a disease. It is not. It is a result of irregular or poor watering. The problem is more cosmetic although the splits may allow decay to start.  Tomato fruits have an ability to heal themselves to a degree.

There also exists a disease deformity called Cat-facing which refers to a type of physiological damage affecting tomatoes and represented by scarring and cavities near the blossom end. It can be caused by pests, temperature stress, or poor soil conditions. Affected fruit usually remains edible, but its appearance may be unsightly.

Another particularly dreaded disease is curly top, carried by the beet leafhopper, which interrupts the lifecycle. As the name implies, it has the symptom of making the top leaves of the plant wrinkle up and grow abnormally

Just in case some of this information has put you off it is worth noting that the world consumes around 162 million tonnes of tomatoes each year. Biggest producers are china and India followed by the vegetable growers of America.

Just for the hell of it, join in the biggest tomato fight in the world?

Every year a tomato throwing ‘Festival’ happens in the small eastern Spanish town of Buñol in the Eastern province of Valencia. The festival is called La Tomatina-catchy name that. It, involves around 40,000 people pelting 120-150,000 tonnes of tomatoes at each other.  That’s over a tonne each!

Legend has it that it all started around 1940 when a group of youngsters grabbed tomatoes from a market stall and threw them at each other. It has been going, and growing, ever since.

What better for releasing all of your tensions and letting off steam than by throwing tomatoes at your friends neighbours relations etc?  Maybe the best health tonic there is-Fun. Book your trip now, it is held on the second Wednesday of August. (Although watch out for the beef tomatoes, they could pack quite a punch!).

A few tips on growing and watering Tomatoes. 

Plant tomatoes in the ground or in containers or in grow bags. They need to go in organic matter or compost with a suitable fertiliser. Tomatoes need a temperature of at least 65% F or 18%C to ripen. If outdoors wait until all chance of frost has gone. A good mulch around the base of the plant will help keep it moist.

Tomatoes love water but you can overdo it. Depending on temperatures, water plants in the ground around 2-3 times a week, more often if in a container or grow bag as they dry out very quickly. As the weather cools and the tomatoes ripen ease back watering to once a week again, more if in pots or bags.

The art of watering tomatoes is ‘Slow and Deep’ ensuring a full soaking of the roots.  A quick flash of water on the top layer of soil will not suffice. Drip irrigation is a good idea with tomatoes as it will keep the plant moist without flooding it. One other trick growers use is to plant impatiens near your tomatoes as they will quickly wilt if dry also letting you know the tomatoes are thirsty too. Rain water is always best because of the minerals it contains.

Only water the roots NOT THE PLANT. This can cause disease and pests and encourages premature evaporating.

Last of all. Feed your tomatoes with a suitable tomato fertilizer according to the instructions given-no more or less. Your tomatoes will thank for it and give a good crop.

Many tomato growers will have their own tricks, way and recommendations. Out French neighbour has been teaching me how to use stinging nettles as fertilizer. His tomatoes always look healthy and strong, very similar to the odour given off by his rotting nettles tank.

Tips on using tomatoes at home

Tomatoes keep best unwashed at room temperature and out of direct sunlight.

If you need to wash them use cool water and just pat them dry.

It is not recommended to refrigerate them as this can harm the flavour. Tomatoes stored cold tend to lose their flavour permanently.

Many people do not use tomato seeds or skins in their cooking. Why throw them out. They provide many valuable nutrients that would be wasted. Try developing recipes that include seeds and skins.

Storing tomatoes upside down with stems down can extend their shelf life and may keep from rotting too quickly.[71]

Tomatoes that are not yet ripe can be kept in a paper bag till ripening.

Try to avoid using aluminium cookware. Tomatoes have a high acid content which can interact with the cookware meaning the aluminium may taint the food giving an unpleasant taste and potentially unwanted health effects.