• Jon Mychal Heatherly

Enjoy the Tang of a Tomato

Updated: May 11

The tomatl berry of Central and South America

Image by David Besa from Sonoma, USA via Wikimedia


HISTORY

The tomato achieved ubiquity in world cuisine after the conquest of the Americas by Europe and subsequent trade of animals, diseases, and plants in the Columbian Exchange. While many assume the tomato is central to Italian culture, many nobles looked down upon this low-growing vine. Some regions of Italy still are not particularly fond of it.


This fruit berry evolved in Peru and made its way to Mesoamerica through natural processes and human trade. Its name comes from tomatl, meaning “fat water” in the Aztec language of Nahuatl. They cultivated many varieties of the wild tomatl at least 2500 years ago, like xitomatl - which means “plump thing with a navel.”



Scientific name: Solanum lycopersicum Flavor: Juicy, sweet, sour, savory, tangy, tart Uses: Cocktails, garnish, salad, sauce, soup, and more Origin: Peru, domesticated in Mexico

By Addicted04 via Wikimedia


Related: Belladonna (nightshade), eggplants, mandrake, peppers, potatoes, tobacco Companions: Asparagus, basil, borage, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chives, marigold, grapevine, marjoram, nasturtiums, onions, parsley, and stinging nettle. Pests: Aphids, birds, blister beetles, corn earworms, cutworms, flea beetles, hornworms, mammals, root-knot nematodes, slugs/snails, spider mites, whitefly Pollinators: self-fertile, bees, etc.


GROWTH & HARVEST

A multitude of tomato kinds exist. Some are determinate such as the saucy Roma, which means they only grow so big - sort of bushy-like and are ripe all at the same time. Others are indeterminate like cherry varieties - which means they grow as big as conditions allow and continue to ripen until frost. Both categories benefit from staking or vertical support.


Most varieties of this nightshade do self-pollinate, though any help is appreciated. Europeans first thought they were poisonous. Every part of this plant but the berry is mildly toxic to humans. Wild tomatoes produce a natural, potent enzyme - on their sticky trichomes, which acts as a pest repellent and insecticide. Bred varieties had this stickiness removed.


One study showed when a tomato is under attack, it releases a stress pheromone into the air. Nearby tomatoes detect and convert this airborne pheromone into another pesticide - with a 50% effectiveness rate in killing predators. Some plants benefit from being planted near tomatoes, and vice versa.


TOMATOES AS FOOD

So many foods include tomatoes in modern North America alone. There’s ketchup, tomato sauce, paste, spaghetti, pizza, salads, and a lot more. Try fermenting tomatoes into wine; it tastes sweet like honey. So many dishes wouldn’t exist without them.


Image by Dan Gold via Unsplash

NUTRIENTS Serving 100-gram medium, uncooked tomato 95% Water, 4% carbs, <1% protein/fats 18 calories, 17% DV Vit C. 1.5 g fiber


Recipe: Fried Green Tomatoes

Image by Belinda Hankins Miller via Flickr


Ingredients: 4 large green tomatoes, 2 eggs, ½ cup milk, 1 cup flour, ½ cup cornmeal ½ cup breadcrumbs, 2 tsp kosher salt, black pepper, vegetable oil


Directions: Whisk the eggs and milk in a bowl. Put the flour on a plate, and on another plate put the breadcrumbs, cornmeal, salt, and pepper. Preheat the cooking oil in a skillet.

Slice the tomato from side to side. Compost the stem top and bottom tip. Coat a tomato slice in the flour. Next, dip it in the egg mixture. Last, coat it in the crumbs.

Place several slices in the hot skillet. They should not overlap or touch. Flip when brown to your liking. Drain grease from them on a paper towel as they cool. Enjoy!


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