The tomato is a plant in the Solanaceae or nightshade family. The taxonomic name is either Solanum lycopersicum or Lycopersicon esculentum depending on the reference. Lycopersicon lycopersicum is the common scientific term for the tomato.

The tomato is native to the Americas, originating in South America (it was initially cultivated by Aztecs and Incas as early as 700 A.D). Europeans first saw the tomato when the Conquistadors reached Mexico and Central America in the 16th century. Tomato seeds were taken back to Europe where they quickly found favor in the Mediterranean countries of Spain, Portugal and Italy.In the 16th and 17th centuries, many Europeans believed tomatoes were poisonous because of the plant's relationship to nightshade and tobacco, although they were grown as garden ornamentals. It is now grown world-wide for its brightly coloured (usually red, from the pigment lycopene) edible fruits.

The first traces of use of tomato as food date back to South Europe in the first half of XVIII century. Only in the second half of XVIII century cultivation of the tomato as food begins to be widespread, mainly in southern Italy and in France.

Some lingering doubts about the safety of the tomato were largely put to rest in 1820, when Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson announced that at noon on September 28, he would eat a bushel (about 25 kg) of tomatoes in front of the Salem, Massachusetts courthouse. Reportedly, an immense 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.

Today, tomatoes are used extensively in most Mediterranean cuisines, especially Italian ones. The tomato has an acidic property that is used to bring out other flavors.

A study conducted in Italy showed that consuming seven or more servings of tomatoes a week reduced the risk of developing colon, rectal and stomach cancer by sixty percent! While lycopene may in fact have many health benefits, researchers point out that there may be other, as yet unidentified, substances in tomatoes that make them protective against diseases, and they say it’s best to get lycopene and other phytochemicals from foods, rather than from pills or other supplements.

Many people believe that tomatoes should be stored refrigerated. This actually destroys the flavor and texture. Ideally tomatoes should be stored between 55-65°F at 80-95% relative humidity.

One medium tomato has only 35 calories and supplies 20 percent of the daily value for Vitamin A and a whopping 40 percent of the daily value for Vitamin C. Tomatoes also contain the anti-oxidants p-courmaric and chlorogenic acids. So eat up and enjoy the flavor and the nutrition!

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Did You Know?
Thomas Jefferson was a pioneer in growing tomatoes, beginning in 1809. He grew large ribbed "Spanish" tomatoes. Jefferson's daughters left numerous recipes that involved tomatoes, including gumbo soups, cayenne-spiced tomato soup, green tomato pickles, tomato preserves, and tomato omelettes. Tomatoes were purchased in 1806 for Presidential dinners. Randolph's The Virginia Housewife has seventeen recipes for tomatoes, including gazpacho, gumbo, and catsup. 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 they believed they kept one's blood pure in the heat of summer."

By 1850, the tomato was an important produce item in every American city. People were planting tomatoes in their home gardens, while farmers commercially produced fresh tomatoes throughout the year. When cold weather halted local production, consumers relied on areas with temperate climates to furnish their supply of tomatoes.

Fruit or Vegetable?
On the matter of whether a tomato is a fruit or vegetable, the discrepancy between botany's designation (it's a fruit) and popular opinion (it's a vegetable) has caused some amusing results. 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, along with cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas, using the popular definition which classifies vegetables in how they are used: they are generally served with dinner and not dessert

Botanically, tomatoes are a fruit. This is because, generally, a fruit is the edible part of the plant that contains the seeds, while a vegetable is the edible stems, leaves, and roots of the plant. FREE Recipes