Welcome to this week’s PANE ROMANO. I thought we would take a look at one of my favorite vegetables…or is it a fruit? It’s the tomato and according to science it’s a fruit and according to law it’s a vegetable. This must mean that we are all allowed to call it whatever we prefer!
The word tomato comes from the Nahuatl word tomatotl. The exact time of the tomato’s domestication is unknown, but by 500 BCE it was already being cultivated in southern Mexico and most likely other areas of Central and South America. The tomato itself is the edible, red fruit or berry of the nightshade plant known as Solanum lycopersicum. The species is thought to have originated in the South American Andes and has been used as a food throughout this area for millennia. Tomatoes spread throughout the world beginning with the Spanish colonization of the Americas.
Tomatoes are very versatile and are consumed in a myriad of different ways: raw, as an ingredient in other dishes, sauces, salads, drinks, etc. As mentioned above, even though technically a fruit, tomatoes are considered vegetables for most culinary purposes. It is also considered a vegetable under U.S. customs regulations due to the ruling in the Nix v. Hedden case.
I found it very interesting that when the tomato arrived in Europe, most Europeans were afraid to eat it and used it more for decoration. Around the late 1700s, tomatoes had the nickname “poison apple”. This was due to stories that said aristocrats were getting sick and dying after eating them, but the truth of the matter is that most wealthy Europeans were eating from pewter plates which had high concentrations of lead. “Because tomatoes are so high in acidity, when placed on this particular tableware, the fruit would leach lead from the plate, resulting in many deaths from lead poisoning.”* Of course, being a member of the nightshade family wasn’t doing tomatoes any good either as most people throughout history have known to stay away from nightshade.
I use tomatoes often as I find them to be very versatile to work with, you can do so much with them! I make a mean tomato sauce for pasta (thanks for the secret family recipe, Mama)! What is your favorite thing to do with tomatoes?
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*Smith, K. Annabelle. “Why the tomato was feared in Europe for more than 200 years.” Smithsonian.com 18 Jun. 2013 Web 22 Jul. 2014
“Tomato.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 14 Jul. 2014 Web. 22 Jul. 2014.