Tomatoes are one of the world’s most popular crops to grow, but it wasn’t always like that. They originated in what is now Peru in South America and were bought back to Europe by the explorers in the mid 1500’s. They were treated with suspicion and thought to be poisonous as they resembled the deadly nightshades which they are, in fact, related to, along with peppers and potatoes.
Tomatoes are far from poisonous and, as we now know, are actually very good for you. They contain loads of vitamins A and C, calcium, potassium, and lycopene. Lycopene is the pigment that gives tomatoes its gorgeous colour and, being an antioxidant, is especially good for you and can protect against cell damage. A little known fact is that cooked tomatoes are better for you as it makes even more beneficial nutrients available for absorption. Also good to note is that storing tomatoes in the fridge can reduce quality and flavour.
The humble tomato had a bit of a brush with the law back in the 1890s in the USA where, for taxation purposes, it was declared a vegetable, and therefore included in tariff laws that at the time imposed duties on vegetables whilst not on fruits. The logic used which is still used today by many is that the tomato was eaten as part of a savoury meals and not sweet desserts. Truth be told though that it is actually a fruit. As a reminder, the technical definition of a fruit is that its edible part containing seeds, whereas a vegetable comes from the stem, leaf or root of a plant.
Since its journey across the ocean from South America to Europe, the tomato has travelled far and wide to become a staple crop across the world. It has even gone into space! Back in 2001, the Canadian Space Agency initiated the Tomatosphere project, where tomato seeds were sent to the International Space Station, returned to earth and then sent to thousands of school children, along with strictly earthbound tomato seeds. The goal of the experiment was to grow them and observe if zero gravity had an effect on the tomato plants.