Tomatoes have been a key ingredient in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine for centuries. Bright red and unflawed tomatoes make the best sauces, soups, salads, and pasta dishes. However, the tomato’s red skin does not only lend itself to aesthetic and gastronomical pleasures. The skin’s deep red pigment contains numerous health benefits, including large amounts of vitamins A and C. It’s no surprise then that tomatoes are undeniably one of the most widely used vegetables in cooking.
Tomatoes have a plump, round shape. They are usually crowned with a tiny leafy stem. Fully ripe tomatoes have a glossy red skin, but some tomatoes also come in shades of yellow, orange, and green.
The flesh of a fresh tomato is moist and tender. The core is filled with seeds embedded in a juicy compound. Their flavor is generally a balance of acid and sweetness, which depends on the tomato’s acidity and sugar levels. Darker tomatoes tend to have a more acidic taste. Tomatoes are very refreshing; in fact they are often pureed and made into a juice.
Being one of the most widely purchased crops, fresh tomatoes are readily available at most supermarkets and food stores all year round.
Tomatoes are a warm-season crop, grown throughout late spring and summer. In the US, the peak season for tomatoes is normally from June to September.
The quality of a tomato can be assessed by its appearance, feel, and smell. Always choose tomatoes that have a bright skin that is free of bruises or blemishes. Give the tomato a gentle squeeze to assess its firmness. A good tomato doesn’t yield to pressure, but it doesn’t feel too hard, either. Finally, use your sense of smell. Fresh, sun-ripened tomatoes emit a strong sweet scent.
Steer clear of tomatoes that feel unnaturally soft or have wrinkled skin. Avoid buying tomatoes that are packed in plastic wrap, as it is difficult to check whether they’re genuinely fresh or not.
When deciding to purchase organic or non-organic produce, consider the intensity of pesticide residue in a particular fruit or vegetable to reduce your exposure to pesticides. Pesticides are toxins used to kill insects, plants, and fungi during their growth and are potentially dangerous to people. Both the United States and international agencies agree that prolonged exposure to specific pesticides through food consumption is a potential health risk.
Every year the Environmental Working Group—an American environmental organization that analyzes farming and agricultural issues—publishes the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce to inform consumers of the most and least pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables.
The Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen is a list that highlights the twelve most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables. Meanwhile, fruits and vegetables that contain mild pesticide contamination fall under the Clean Fifteen category. The data is obtained from the United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.
Currently, the Environmental Working Group lists tomatoes as the 32nd crop with the worst pesticide residue out of forty-eight vegetables and fruits (lower numbers = more pesticides). Meanwhile, cherry tomatoes are currently included in the Dirty Dozen list. The tomato’s skin is vulnerable to chemical absorption, so opting for organically grown tomatoes is highly recommended. Research on organic tomatoes has shown that these also contain higher amounts of vitamin C than conventionally grown tomatoes. However, The Environmental Working Group and Yoffie Life stress that consuming conventionally grown vegetables and fruits when the organic version is unavailable or financially impossible is far better than eating none at all.
Tomatoes should ideally be stored at room temperature and kept out of direct sunlight. Many people tend to store tomatoes in refrigerators without being aware of the bad effects that this has on tomatoes. Tomatoes are very sensitive to cold temperatures, and if placed in the fridge, they will lose their flavor and develop a mealy texture.
Wash tomatoes in cold running water, removing any stems that are still attached. Cut tomatoes horizontally and dig out the juicy core using a spoon. Use a sharp knife to produce crisp tomato cubes.
To remove the skin, cut an X on the bottom of the tomato. Place the tomato in boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove it with a spoon and let it soak in ice water. Once the tomato is cool enough to handle, start peeling the skin gently from the carved X.
Raw tomato slices are a common ingredient in salads and sandwiches. Tomatoes are also pureed to make fresh pasta sauce or cold soup.
Immune system supporter.
Vitamin C can help protect against immune system deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, prenatal health problems, eye disease, and even skin wrinkling. It’s needed to form collagen, which helps maintain skin, teeth, gums, tendons, and ligaments. It helps heal wounds and fight cancerous cells. It is required to form neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the brain, and helps minimize damage from toxins.
Help guard cells against effects of free radicals.
Free radicals are molecules that can be produced when your body breaks down food, or by environmental factors (e.g., smoking, radiation). Protecting against free radicals can protect against cell damage that may play a role in heart disease and cancer.
Protect cells from damage.
Help protect blood vessels and keep them strong. Help prevent inflammation throughout the body. Enhance the impact of vitamin C. Responsible for plant colors.
B9 (Folate or Folic Acid)
Heart health, cognitive enhancement.
Needed to form red blood cells, DNA, and proteins in the body. Important for cell and tissue growth and repair, and during pregnancy, for preventing spina bifida in the fetus.
Healthy bones, teeth, and eyes.
Helps eyes, skin, immune system, and many other parts of the body grow and stay healthy. Important for night vision.
Tomatoes are packed with antioxidants. An antioxidant is a substance that prevents the oxidation of cells in the body. While we typically think of oxygen as a good thing, sometimes when cells are oxidized, they produce free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that are always looking for additional electrons to make them more stable. They often attach to the electron of another cell and cause new free radicals to form. Over time, free radicals damage the cells in the body and can even alter our DNA. Excessive free radicals contribute to the aging process and may also contribute to cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants help by stabilizing free radicals, thus reducing their potential to cause damage.
Specifically, tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene, a carotenoid pigment responsible for giving tomatoes their deep red color. Some medical studies suggest that regular intake of lycopene via tomatoes may reduce the risk of lung, stomach, prostate, and breast cancer. Lycopene also increases blood vessel flexibility, reducing cholesterol levels in the blood.
Tomatoes also contain vitamin A, which improves eye and skin health, and a balanced combination of folate and vitamin B6, which act as a shield against cardiovascular disease.
- Every year in Spain a huge tomato fight takes place on the last Wednesday of August. Known as La Tomatina, this festival draws thousands of participants to the streets of Valencia, where they fling overripe tomatoes at each other.
- Botanically speaking, tomatoes are actually a fruit, but they are prepared and sold as a vegetable.
- Tomatoes are also used as a skin-care ingredient. Freshly squeezed tomato juice can be applied to the body and face to treat acne and pimples, sooth sunburn, and cleanse the skin.