The cultivated tomato is thought to have originated from the cherry tomato, Lycopersicon esculen-tum var cerasiforme, which occurs wild in Peru, Ecuador, and elsewhere in tropical America. It was probably first domesticated in Mexico. Early in the 16 th century it was brought to Europe by the Spaniards. Its name is derived from the Aztec name xitomatl. It was at first regarded as a poisonous plant in Europe and known as "Pomme d'amour," "love apple," and "golden apple," although it was clearly regarded as a food plant in Mexico and many varieties had been developed by the American Indians before the Spanish conquest. The culinary barrier seems to have been broken first in Italy, and gradually the taste for eating them spread around the Mediterranean and then northwards through Europe where they were long treated with suspicion. This may partly have been because of the color of their fruits and partly because they were related to poisonous plants of the nightshade family. Parkinson grew them as ornamentals even though he was aware that they were being eaten with delight in more southerly parts of Europe. Even in 19th century Britain caution persisted and their use seems to have been restricted to upper-class and Jewish households, and Cobbett writing in 1833 observed that they were being sold at high prices. Large scale production seems to have begun in Italy, in the region near Naples, in the early 19th century. It was not until the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries that tomato growing became big business in Europe and tomatoes were found in most salads and tomato sauce was the recognized accompaniment of all fish dishes.
Meanwhile in the 18th century they were introduced to the United States from Europe, where they soon gave rise to a canning industry and to the invention of tomato ketchup, America's national condiment. They also were gradually introduced into many other parts of the world making them now one of the most important vegetable and salad plants in the world. Part of its success is due to its ability to combine with other flavors such as basil, garlic, onion, thyme, oregano, peppers, cheese, egg, and meat flavors.
The fruit is a fleshy berry which may be red or yellow in color and can vary in size from the small cherry tomato (1.5 cm in diameter) to the "beef" type (10 cm diameter). They are usually more or less globular in shape, but Italian plum tomatoes are ovoid, and there are also pear-shaped forms. Its fruits are consumed raw or cooked and processed in a great variety of ways: as juice, soup, sauce, ketchup, paste, and they can also be dried. Green tomatoes are used to make chutney and pickles. Developments in plant breeding have led to greatly increased yields and disease resistance at the expense of its flavor; those lucky enough to be able to grow their own tomatoes at home know that there is a world of difference in the flavor of the home grown, freshly picked fruits.
Tomatoes are tolerant of a wide range of climates from tropical to temperate regions and there are many different cultivars. Large scale production is to be found in Russia, China, the United States, Egypt, and Italy.
Was this article helpful?