Almost All You Need to Know about Tomatoes.
Tomato
Resources > Food > Vegetables > Tomato > Tomato

Are you a Smart Kitchen™ Chef?

Try it FREE or take a TOUR to explore Smart Kitchen!
+ -

Tomatoes are one of the most common garden fruits in the United States and typically the tomato plants produce more tomatoes then most growers need.

Tomatoes, (Solanum lycopersicum), belong to the "Solanaceae" family. The savory, acidic, round Tomato that we eat as a culinary “vegetable,” is actually a berry with seeds. The familiar, round, often but not always red Tomato is the fruit of the plant though, because it has seeds and a savory taste, we consider it a vegetable in the kitchen. Not to mention in the legal world, Tomatoes are classified under vegetables.

In the botanists’ world, Tomatoes are technically a fruit, actually a berry because they develop from the ovary of the plant. Interestingly, a Tomato (the South Arkansas Vine Ripe Pink Tomato) is both the State Fruit and State Vegetable of Arkansas. Also, Ohio claims the Tomato as its State Fruit and New Jersey claims it as the State Vegetable. Fruit or vegetable, the issue will live on and be debated over cooking pots for years to come.

Season

First or Early Tomatoes, bear fruit late in the Spring or early in the Summer. Main crop Tomatoes, bear fruit well into the Summer months.

Availability

Tomatoes are available all year long.

Cultivation

The world’s Tomato farmers grew about 130 million tons of tomatoes in 2008 and you may be surprised to learn that the leading Tomato producing country on earth, with roughly 25% of the total output, is China, followed by the United States (at a third of China’s output), Turkey, India and Italy.

In the United States, Tomatoes are the leading processed vegetable crop and more than 400,000 acres of land are devoted to Tomato production. The U.S. annual crop weighs more than 14 million tons. Domestically, the cultivation of tomato varieties is usually determined by their final destination and use: either for fresh Tomatoes or for processing.

Tomato processors need Tomatoes with more soluble solids to most efficiently make products like tomato paste, pasta sauces, soup, salsa, ketchup and prepared foods. Between 80-90% of all commercial tomato cultivation in the U.S. is cultivation for eventual use in processing. Almost 80-85% of the crop, or 12 million of those tons, are processed. California is the leading producer of processing Tomatoes. They grow 90% of them and almost 35% of total world production. Indiana, Michigan and Ohio are other major Tomato producers.

The remaining 1.8 million tons of Tomatoes are produced for the fresh market. In fresh market Tomatoes, California and Florida are the leading providers holding about ⅔ of the market with Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia also producing significant crops of fresh tomatoes. New Jersey is known for Tomatoes, the state vegetable, but not a major producer any longer.  During the winter months, fresh Florida Tomatoes fill markets along the East Coast and imported Mexican Tomatoes fill a high percentage of the shelves on the West Coast.

When planning to grow tomatoes in a vegetable garden, many people research what type of variety grows best in their region. They plant several types of tomatoes in the same garden to see which types grow and taste better. There are many varieties to choose from and many places to buy seeds, including numerous online resources.

Tomatoes grow well with seven hours of sunlight a day. The plants typically grow to 1–3 metres (3–10 ft) in height and have a weak stem that often sprawls over the ground and vines over other plants. It is a perennial in its native habitat, although often grown outdoors in temperate climates as an annual. If you are looking for more on growing Tomatoes the Georgia Vegetable Team at the University of Georgia College of Agriculture & Environmental Science has a helpful Tomato Growing Resource.

Production

A large part of the Tomato story, as far as flavor and use are concerned, is how they are picked and stored. Tomatoes are frequently picked green, before they are ripe and red, and then ripened in storage using ethylene gas. Ripe tomatoes are softer and more prone to cracking. Unripe tomatoes are firmer and easier to handle and ship. They also tend to keep longer in the long commercial distribution chain.

Unfortunately, Tomatoes picked early and ripened with ethylene gas have poorer flavor and a mealier, starchier texture. In the kitchen, that makes them a poorer culinary choice as an ingredient. The industry is trying to address the competing needs, by developing slower-ripening varieties of Tomato. 

Commercial Tomatoes are often grown in greenhouses in cooler or hotter climates. In more temperate climates, it is not uncommon to start seeds in greenhouses during the late winter, for future transplant to the garden plot. California is the United States leading Tomato producer. They produce about 90% of all U.S. tomatoes.

Varieties

The most widely grown commercial tomatoes tend to be in the 2 to 2.4 inch diameter (5-6 cm) range. Most of them bear a red fruit. Tomatoes grown for canning and sauces are often elongated, 3-4 inches (7–9 cm) long and 1.6 to 2 inches (4–5 cm) in diameter; they are known as plum tomatoes, and have a lower water content. Describing the most grown is just scratching the surface.

Tomatoes flourish in 7,500 different varieties (at last count) with unique shapes sizes and colors, (yellow, orange, pink, purple, green, black, or white, even multi-hued and striped). There are small cherry tomatoes, bright yellow tomatoes, Italian pear-shaped tomatoes, and the famous fried green of the South. Beefmaster Tomatoes and Beefsteak Tomatoes ( 4 inches or 10 cm or more in diameter) are some of largest varieties. Roma Tomatoes are an intermediate sized example, while Cherry Tomatoes and Grape Tomatoes (2/5 of an inch to 4/5 of an inch or 1-2 cm) are small and round. Tomberry Tomatoes are tiny, the size of a berry and only about 1/4 of an inch (5 mm) in diameter.

Yellow/Orange varieties are typically sweeter than red tomatoes and taste more like fruit because of their higher sugar content. Persimmon TomatoesGolden Boy Tomatoes and Garden Peach Tomatoes are examples of the yellow/orange variety. Green Tomatoes ripen green and tend to have lower levels of acid than red tomatoes. White Tomatoes are rarer and typically have the lowest acid content of all Tomatoes, though to some people they are also considered bland. Snow White Cherry Tomatoes are an example of a white tomato variety.  Robust Black Tomatoes have a smoky flavor as compared to red Tomatoes. Cherokee Purple Tomatoes and Black Krim Tomatoes are examples of black tomatoes.

With 7500 types, there are also varieties high in beta carotenes and vitamin A, hollow tomatoes and tomatoes which keep for months in storage. When looking through the variety of Tomatoes available, remember that there is a large difference between commercial tomatoes and home-gardener types.

As chefs we should be looking for the home cultivars because they are most often bred for flavor over all other considerations. Commercial cultivars need to excel in a number of areas, including consistent size & shape, disease & pest resistance, suitability for mechanized picking & shipping, and ability to be picked before fully Ripening. There are some taste and use considerations about handling and ripening that we discuss below in cultivation.

You may also see "tomatoes on the vine," in stores. They are determinate varieties that are ripened or harvested with the fruits still connected to a piece of vine. Tomatoes on the vine tend to have more flavor than artificially ripened tomatoes. Of course, the flavor comes at a premium cost.

There are also several types of Tomatoes (mostly in Europe) with Protected Geographical Indication. Protected Geographical Indication Tomatoes include:

Pomodoro di Pachino (PGI), in Sicily

Pomodoro S. Marzano dell'Agro Sarnese-Nocerino (PDO), in Southern Italy

Tomaten von der Insel Reichenau (PGI), from Reichenau Island, Germany

Purchasing

As chefs we should be looking for the home cultivars because they are most often bred for flavor over all other considerations. Commercial cultivars need to excel in a number of areas, including consistent size & shape, disease & pest resistance, suitability for mechanized picking & shipping, and ability to be picked before fully Ripening

You may also see "tomatoes on the vine," in stores. They are determinate varieties that are ripened or harvested with the fruits still connected to a piece of vine. Tomatoes on the vine tend to have more flavor than artificially ripened tomatoes. Of course, the flavor comes at a premium cost.

The best Tomatoes to purchase are those that have rich, vibrant hues: deep reds, luminous oranges, lustrous yellows, and dark purples are all good choices. No matter the color, the Tomatoes you purchase should be well shaped, smooth skinned and without wrinkles, cracks, bruises, or soft spots. A puffy appearance is not desirable either, as it often signifies a subpar flavor.

When a Tomato is ripe, it will yield to slight pressure and will have a slightly sweet fragrance.

Storage

Optimally, store Tomatoes at room temperature and away from direct light. The refrigerator is not the best place for Tomatoes. Refrigeration slows the ripening process and degrades the flavor of a good tomato.

If you need to quicken the ripening process, put them in a paper bag with an apple or banana. The Ethylene gas given off by the other fruit will increase the Tomato’s ripening process. If you want to retard the ripening process, or extend the useful life of your purchased Tomatoes, put them into the refrigerator. Let them Temper, to ambient room temperature, for at least 30 minutes before use to achieve the best results.

Depending on their ripeness when purchased, Tomatoes can last a week or more in the kitchen. Ripe Tomatoes should be used within a day or two for the best tasting dishes and the maximum absorption of vitamins from the fruit.

Tomatoes will freeze well and can be stored frozen for 8-12 months.

Culinary Uses

As we mentioned above, Tomatoes are typically grouped into three categories for culinary purposes: Slicing-Type TomatoesSauce-Type Tomatoes and Small-Fruit Tomatoes. Within each group are both Heirloom Tomatoes and Hybrid Tomatoes

Yellow/Orange varieties are typically sweeter than red tomatoes and taste more like fruit because of their higher sugar content. Persimmon TomatoesGolden Boy Tomatoes and Garden Peach Tomatoes are examples of the yellow/orange variety.

Green Tomatoes ripen green and tend to have lower levels of acid than red tomatoes.

White Tomatoes are rarer and typically have the lowest acid content of all Tomatoes, though to some people they are also considered bland. Snow White Cherry Tomatoes are an example of a white tomato variety.  

Robust Black Tomatoes have a smoky flavor as compared to red Tomatoes. Cherokee Purple Tomatoes and Black Krim Tomatoes are examples of black tomatoes.

As chefs we should be looking for the home cultivars because they are most often bred for flavor.

Fresh Tomatoes

The sweet juiciness of a home grown, perfect, vine-ripened Tomato is an unrivaled joy of summer. Although the modern grocery system provides Tomatoes all year, some seasons are just better for eating the fresh fruit. Tomatoes, which are 93-94% water according to the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, contain fleshy internal segments filled with seeds in a liquid matrix. Tomatoes are used fresh in Salads, Appetizers, Sauces, Salsas and many other dishes. Cooking fresh Tomatoes tempers the acid and bitter tastes in Tomatoes and highlights their rich, warm sweetness. Pests are common in tomatoes and most commercial, non-organic Tomatoes are subjected to insecticides. Wash fresh Tomatoes thoroughly in the water in order to remove dust, soil and any lingering insecticides. Fresh, raw Tomatoes will have an extra acidic taste, as compared to cooked or canned Tomatoes.

Cooked Tomatoes

Originally from the new world, Tomatoes have been adopted by many cuisines from the old world. Today tomatoes are closely connected with cuisines like Italian, Spanish, Indian or Middle Eastern and new world cuisines like Mexican. Tomatoes are used whole and cooked or cooked in Tomato StocksTomato SaucesTomato SoupsTomato JuicesSalads, and Garnishes. They can also be found in other dishes used as component ingredients, like Tomato PuréeTomato Paste or Tomato Frito.  

Unripe green Tomatoes are good candidates for pickling. They are also the Tomatoes used for Fried Green Tomatoes, a specialty of the Southern United States.

Tomatoes can also be sun-dried, like a raisin.

Portion Size

Allow 1-2 oz of Tomato per person.

Nutritional Value USDA
TOMATOES,RED,RIPE,RAW,YEAR RND AVERAGE
Amount Per 100g
Calories 18
%Daily Value*
 
0%
Total Fat 0g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
0%
Sodium 5mg
5%
Potassium 237mg
1%
Total Carbohydrate 3g
4%
Dietary Fiber 1g
Sugars 2g
Protein 0g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Nutrition

Tomatoes, while low in calories and fats, are a good source of dietary fiber, minerals, anti-oxidants, phyto-chemicals and vitamins. Tomatoes have been shown to be helpful in protecting against some forms of cancer, heart disease and for promoting bone health and weight loss.

Vitamins and Minerals in Tomatoes

Tomatoes contain Vitamin AVitamin B1Vitamin B2Vitamin B6Vitamin CVitamin EVitamin KCalciumChromiumCopperFolateIronManganeseMolybdenumNiacinPantothenic AcidPhosphorus, and Potassium.  

Antioxidants in Tomatoes

The Antioxidants present in Tomatoes have been found to be helpful in preventing or fighting many cancers including colon cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer, lung cancer, and pancreatic cancers.

Tomatoes contains the antioxidants: alpha and beta carotenes, xanthin and lutein, the carotenoid Phytonutrient Lycopene, Vitamin C, the mineral manganese; and a good amount of Vitamin E. The antioxidants in Tomatoes can offer humans protection in the form of: reducing the oxygen damage to fats in cell membranes or in the bloodstream (reduced lipid peroxidation), improving enzyme function (for example improving the enzymes catalase or superoxide dismutaste), or generally protecting the bones, liver, kidney and blood.  

One study suggests that, although all tomatoes have good antioxidant capacity, four varieties have marginally higher amounts of antioxidants. The four varieties suggested by the study are New GirlJet StarFantastic and First Lady. Organic and traditionally grown fruits had similar levels of antioxidants. Type of Tomato made the biggest difference in antioxidant levels. For the health benefits, it may make sense to include antioxidants, along with flavor and taste in your tomato purchasing criteria.

Tomatoes do not have to be a deep red to be a great source of natural Lycopene. A few small studies have shown that the lycopene from orange colored Tomatoes may actually be better absorbed by humans than the lycopene from red Tomatoes. The reason is that the lycopene in deep red Tomatoes is mostly trans-lycopene, and the lycopene in orange Tomatoes is mostly tetra-cis-lycopene, which is purported to be more efficiently absorbed by people.

Alkaloids

The leaves of the Tomato plant can contain dangerously high concentrations of alkaloids. If you are sensitive to alkaloids, the Tomato fruit, which contains small amounts of alkaloids, may pose a problem. The greater risk for most people comes from the Tomato leaves and stems which contain atropine, tomatine  and other tropane alkaloids that are toxic if ingested in high quantities. Unripe Tomatoes may also contain small amounts of the poisonous alkaloid tomatine. Tea made from Tomato leaves has been responsible for at least one fatality. Tomato plants can also be toxic to dogs.

Phytonutrients

Tomatoes are star performers when it comes to Phytonutrients. Which offer heart protection, UV protection, protection from Oxygen free radicals in the body and protection from some forms of cancer. Phytonutrients in Tomatoes include:

  • Flavonones
    • naringenin
    • chalconaringenin
  • Flavonols
    • rutin
    • kaempferol
    • quercetin
  • Hydroxycinnamic acids
    • caffeic acid
    • ferulic acid
    • coumaric acid
  • Carotenoids
    • lycopene
    • lutein
    • zeaxanthin
    • beta-carotene
  • Glycosides
    • esculeoside A
  • Fatty acid derivatives
    • 9-oxo-octadecadienoic acid

Phytonutrients can help protect against lung, prostate and oral cavity cancers, as well as against age related macular degeneration of the eyes. Many of the phytonutrients in Tomatoes are responsible for Tomatoes in the diet improving heart health, bone health, other health benefits and fighting cancer.

Heart Health

Eating Tomatoes helps heart health in two primary ways. The first is in scavenging oxygen free radicals from the body, the second is in regulating fat in the bloodstream.

The heart and bloodstream are responsible for respiration, exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide with the atmosphere and circulating oxygen throughout the body. As we know from The Action of Oxygen in Lesson 3, Oxygen has a corrosive effect on much of what it touches. Our bodies are not much different and require antioxidants to keep the corrosive effects of oxygen in control. Vitamin antioxidants like Vitamin E and Vitamin C do much of the oxygen control and repair work but so to do phytonutrient antioxidants like Flavonoids and Carotenoids.

The second way that eating Tomatoes helps with heart health is by improving the ratio of good cholesterol (HDL) to bad cholesterol (LDL). Tomato consumption also favorably impacts the triglyceride levels.

In addition, Tomato extracts have been shown to help prevent unwanted clumping together (aggregation) of platelet cells in the blood - a factor that is especially important in lowering risk of heart problems like atherosclerosis. (In a recent South American study of 26 vegetables, Tomatoes and Green beans came out best in their anti-aggregation properties.)

Gluten Free

Yes

Low Fat

Yes

Low Calorie

Yes