IS IT “tuh-MAY-toh” or “tuh-MAH-to”? Whichever, pronunciation doesn’t matter when it comes to this fabulous nutritious crop once considered as poisonous. A botanist mistakenly took the tomato for the “wolf peach” referred to by Galen in his third century writings, that is, “poison in a palatable package which was used to destroy wolves.”
But the question that is still debatable: Is tomato really a vegetable or is it a fruit. By definition, a fruit is the edible plant structure of a mature ovary of a flowering plant, usually eaten raw and tomato can be categorized as such.
From the point of view of horticulturists, tomato is considered a vegetable plant.
Since “vegetable” is not a botanical term, there is no contradiction in a plant part being a fruit botanically while still being touted as a vegetable.
According to Andrew F. Smith’s The Tomato in America, the tomato probably originated in the highlands of the west coast of South America, where they grow wild in what is now Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador. They were first cultivated by the Aztecs and Incas as early as 700 AD.
After the Spanish colonization of the Americas, the Spanish distributed the tomato throughout their colonies in the Caribbean. They also took it to the Philippines, whence 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, and was certainly being used as food by the early 1600s in Spain.
The tomato plant was probably not grown in England until the 1590?s. One of the earliest cultivators was John Gerard, a barber-surgeon. Gerard’s Herbal, published in 1597 and largely plagiarized from continental sources, was also one of the earliest discussions of the tomato in England. Gerard knew that the tomato was eaten in both Spain and Italy.
Meanwhile, in Italy, thanks to tomato, pizza came to existence. Pizza was invented around Naples in the late 1880’s. The story goes that it was created by one restaurateur in Naples to celebrate the visit of Queen Margarite, the first Italian monarch since Napoleon conquered Italy.
The restaurateur made the pizza from three ingredients that represented the colors of the new Italian flag: red, white, and green. The red is the tomato sauce, the white was the mozzarella cheese, and the green was the basil topping. Hence, Pizza Margarite was born, and is still the standard for pizza.
In the United States, soup mogul Joseph Campbell came out in 1897 with condensed tomato soup, a move that set the company on the road to wealth as well as further endearing the tomato to the general public.
He may have made tomato soup popular, but the first recipe was credited to Maria Parloa whose 1872 book The Appledore Cook Book described her tomato chowder.
So much for history! The English word “tomato” comes from the Aztec word, tomatl. Botanist Tournefort provided the Latin botanical name, Lycopersicon esculentum. The French referred to the tomato as pommes d’amour, or love apples, as they thought them to have stimulating aphrodisiacal properties. Among Filipinos, tomato is called kamatis.
In most parts of the world, tomatoes are eaten freely, and their consumption is believed to benefit the heart among other things. They contain lycopene, one of the most powerful natural antioxidant which has been found to help prevent prostate cancer.
Tomato extract is now also being promoted for treatment of high blood pressure. Lycopene has also been shown to improve the skin’s ability to protect against harmful ultraviolet rays.
In the Western diet, tomato is the top source of Vitamin A and C. It also contains a significant amount of dietary fiber, beta-carotene, iron, magnesium, niacin, potassium, phosphorus, riboflavin and thiamine.
Nutritionists claim tomato is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. And unlike most foods, cooking or processing of tomato is beneficial to health. It increases its lycopene content (e.g. tomato paste, catsup, tomato soup, tomato sauce).
This is so because as heating up tomato breaks down its cell walls and releasing more lycopene. Test also shows that eating tomatoes has more benefits (with all of its other ingredients) than taking lycopene alone.
In the Philippines, the great variety of its uses leads to its popularity. It is one of the most common ingredients in salads. It is made into soup, pickle, catsup, sauce, and juice. Tomato is served raw, baked, stewed and as a sauce with various other foods.
There are two types of tomatoes grown in the country. The fresh market or table tomatoes are planted in both dry and wet season. Wet season is planting is more risky because tomatoes are very susceptible to pests and diseases brought about by continuous rain and high temperature.
The second type is the processing tomato planted only during the dry season especially in areas supposed to be idle such as lowland rice fields. Processing tomatoes are needed for industrial purposes in the manufacture of paste, sauce, and catsup.
Although tomatoes thrive on many types of soil, a fairly fertile, well-drained soil reasonably free from root-knot nematodes and bacterial wilt organism is best. A sandy loam soil is ideal especially when an early yield is desired. For longer and later yields, heavier soils are preferable.
“Tomato is generally considered a warm season crop that requires a relatively long season to productive profitable yield,” reminds the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU) in Batac, Ilocos Norte. “The ideal planting for maximum production is from October to January to avail of the cool and dry climate growth and good fruit setting.”
Written by By Henrylito D. Tacio
Source: Sun Star