Only one hundred years ago, tomatoes
could not be bought in markets. Only fifty years ago, there were
still people who were afraid to eat them, because they were
The tomato is used as a vegetable, but technically it
is a berry. The plant is a hairy trailing annual, and the berry
(the tomato) is designed to attract animals. Its seeds pass right
through their digestive systems, which helps to disperse them for
The tomato belongs to the Solanaceae family,
and so is related to the potato, aubergine, capsicum, and chilli.
The word tomato comes from the Spanish tomate, which in turn comes
from the Aztec word, tumatl.
The tomato plant was not known outside
of South America until the 16th centur, when the Spanish
conquistadors took some seeds back to Spain.
A Spanish priest grew them in his monastery garden,
where a visiting Moor saw and admired the plant, taking it to
Morocco and from there an Italian sailor took them to Italy.
The Italians called it pomo'doro (golden apple) which
indicates that the yellow variety was most common. Slowly it was
accepted as a food crop, gaining popularity once it gained a
reputation as an aphrodisiac. The French called it pomme d'amor, or
apple of love.
In England at this time, they were grown as a
curiosity, not as a food. On the whole, they were regarded with
suspicion, as the plant belonged to the same family as the deadly
nightshade. Their red colour was believed to be nature's way of
warning. It wasn't until the end of the 19th century that tomatoes
were accepted as a food.
Tomatoes are a very good source of
Vitamin A, which is needed for healthy tissue and proper healing.
Just 25g (1/4 lb) fulfills the recommended daily
They are also a good source of Vitamin C and B
complex, and of Vitamin K, which makes them a diuretic and
detoxicant. They are a natural antiseptic and protect against
infection. Unlike green vegetables, tomatoes lose little
nutritional content in cooking.
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Bianchini, F; Corbetta, F; et al.
The Complete Book of Fruits and Vegetables
[English Translation] (New York: Crown, 1976)
Francis, C. The Complete
Tomato [Australian Edition] (Sydney: William Collins: