What is Tomato and How Do You Use It?

FR: Tom ate GER: Tomate IT: Pomodoro SP: Tomate

BOT: Lycopersicon esculentum FAM: Solanaceae

The tomato is a fruit and vegetable and an important flavouring as well. It is probably native to the north-western part of South America (Peru and Ecuador), but long before Columbus discovered America, it had been taken to Mexico and domesticated. It was brought to Europe by the Spaniards, who apparently used it, but elsewhere in Europe it was, to begin with, often regarded as a curiosity, even as poisonous. Perhaps this was because it so obviously belongs to the same family as the poisonous deadly night-shade, and, actually, the green parts of the plant are poisonous.

What is Tomato and How Do You Use It? Photo Gallery

Today, the tomato is grown in practically every country in the world, in both tropical and temperate climates, but there are an enormous number of varieties and flavour varies considerably as also does the water content. Unfortunately, the most profitable commercial varieties, which look good and stand up to transportation, have often an inferior flavour. In foreign markets and out of the way places, one will sometimes find miserable looking little tomatoes, all wrinkled and oddly shaped, which have an incomparable flavour. So tomatoes, as other fruit, should not be bought by eye. Particular varieties of tomato, such as the plum-shaped tomato much grown in Italy (though of British origin) are suitable for particular purposes, such as canning or conversion into tomato puree.

In the Mediterranean countries, there are also a number of important preserved tomato products, and tomatoes are halved and spread out in the sun to dry, after which they are preserved in olive oil. These dried tomatoes develop a special flavour which fresh tomatoes cannot imitate. During the winter, the market stalls of some Mediterranean countries sell a very rough tomato puree preserved under oil and commonly sold in old wine bottles. This has a rather smoky taste which comes through quite distinctly in local food, so dishes made at home with more sophisticated ingredients do not always taste exactly as they do in their own country. Canned tomatoes also have a special taste of their own, and these are much used by cooks in Italy. Commercial tomato puree again has a different flavour. So, it is very important in following Mediterranean recipes to use the correct tomato ingredient. Tomato ketchup is often called for, particularly in modern recipes.

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