Tomatoes originate from South America and are a well known vegetable. They are used in many countries and are particularly appreciated for their health properties. In Chile and Ecuador especially, the tomato plant is wild and, thanks to the tropical climate, it provides fruit all year round, whilst in Europe, if it is cultivated outside, it has a seasonal cycle and only provides fruit in the summer. In the 16th century, the Spanish raised awareness of this plant in Europe but it was only known in the pre-Columbian period as a decoration. This is because the tomato plant was considered venomous due to its high solanine content, a substance that, in those days, was considered dangerous for humans and therefore tomatoes were not used in cooking. It is not clear when the tomato plant, that was also surrounded by many myths, became edible in Europe but it is considered to be around 1500.
Characteristics of the plant
The tomato plant comes from the solanaceae family (Solanum Lycopersicon). The plant’s stalk can grow up to 2m but it is not strong enough to keep hold of the tomatoes so it requires purpose-made support; when tomatoes are planted they are ‘aided’ by bamboo canes that are planted alongside them and the leaves and small branches of the tomato plant are wrapped around the canes. The flowers grow in clusters along the stem and branches and the ideal ground for cultivating tomatoes has to be well drained and fresh with a temperature of about 12-13 degrees to encourage germination and 22-25 degrees in order for the fruits to grow. Tomatoes do not grow during droughts as they need a lot of water so during dry spells they must be provided with water artificially. The fruits of the tomato plant are also called tomatoes and they are green and red berries that have different dimensions and flavours according to the variety (although it is always quite an acidic flavour). The most common varieties are: the slicing tomato; marmande, pantano, costoluto fiorentino, Saint Pierre; the smooth, round tomato; montecarlo, moneymaker, sunrise, ace; elongated/plum tomato; San Marzano, Roma, Romarzano. Tomatoes are produced all over the world and more than 50,000 tonnes come from the major producers: U.S.A., Russia, Italy, China and Turkey.
Tomatoes work very well with the needs of modern consumption as they are low in calories and rich in minerals, trace elements, water and water soluble vitamins and they are light, refreshing and very nutritional and flavoursome. The principle ingredient is water (94%) and there is less than 1% protein and only 0.2% fat. The other 2.8% is made up of carbohydrates (fructose and glucose). The relationship between the high percentage of water and low percentage of sugar means that tomatoes provide little energy but are used by the body immediately. Some other important properties to remember are that consuming tomatoes regularly makes digestion of starchy foods easier (such as pasta, rice and potatoes) and that they help to remove excess protein from the body, for those who consume a lot of meat. This is not all however: tomatoes have been known to resolve problems with slow digestion and low gastric acidity, thanks to the high content of malic, arabic and lactic acids, and they also have a strong detoxifying function due to the high zinc content. Many minerals and trace elements are present in the watery part of tomatoes, including: potassium (270mg/100g), which helps the body to ‘find’ its water balance again and thus reduce water retention, tiredness, cramps, muscle weakness and hypertension; phosphorus (26mg/100g), which fundamentally helps to keep the bones and teeth healthy; and fat, protein and calcium, which is also present (11mg/100g) and helps to rebalance the nervous system, prevent leg cramps, nervousness and headaches. The trace elements that are present are; iron (0.3mg/100g), which is important for fighting anaemia, zinc (0.11mg/100g) and selenium (2.3mg/100g), that encourage cells to repair themselves and thus help with the fight against aging of the skin.
Another reason why tomatoes are good for our health is because they contain fibre (2%) in the skin and seeds. The typical flavour of this vegetable comes from citric and malic acid, found in the pulp, which can stimulate our appetite and regenerate body tissue. This vegetable is also rich in vitamins, particularly vitamin C (25mg/100g), and eating just 1 tomato a day is enough to get 40% of our recommended daily amount of vitamin C (80mg for an adult), which is very useful for the production of haemoglobin and red blood cells in bone marrow. Vitamin A is also present, in the form of beta-carotene (610mcg/100g), shown by the colour of tomatoes; just 1 tomato weighing 100g ‘covers’ 15% of the beta-carotene we should consume every day. B vitamins are also found in tomatoes and these promote oxygenation and renewal of cells.
Furthermore, tomatoes are considered very useful when we were are in hot environments and they prevent many illnesses, as well as rheumatism and intoxication, and they are known to help with gout and problems related to hypertension. Tomatoes also carry out detoxifying and regenerative actions on body tissue cells and are particularly useful for degenerative problems and arteriosclerosis. Recently, it was also discovered that, once cooked, the lycopene in tomatoes is not damaged as once thought, however, to get the most out of this vegetable, tomatoes must be eaten raw or after being heated for a short time in a pan, which in turn makes them easier to digest.
The importance of lycopene in tomatoes
Consuming 100g of tomato, 3 times a week represents the minimum amount of lycopene we should eat if we wish for this carotene to work properly. Lycopene is the substance responsible for the red colour of tomatoes and it is a natural antioxidant that can protect the body from aging. The human body cannot make lycopene therefore the only way to get it is by eating the right foods. Some research has shown that the best way to acquire lycopene is by cooking tomatoes and making them into a sauce: doing this brings out the antioxidant property. As highlighted in the International Journal of Cancer, by inserting a tomato based dish into your weekly food regime, like pasta or pizza, you can considerably reduce the risk of getting a tumour in your digestive system. Another study, conducted at Harvard Medical School on 48,000 men, revealed that those who consume tomato based meals more than 2 times a week saw a reduction in their risk of getting prostate cancer by 35%, compared to those who never consume tomatoes.
NUTRITIONAL VALUES AND CALORIES PER 100 G OF TOMATOES
Tomatoes and cosmetics
Tomatoes can be used in many ways in cosmetics. The cosmetics industry uses tomato pulp as a base ingredient for toning, nourishing and radiating masks. It is also ideal for getting rid of spots: simply massage the face 2-3 times a day with a well washed slice. It is also very good for softening and nourishing dry skin if it is used in the form of a juice, mixed with almond oil and mallow roots. Mixing olive oil and tomato together has also been shown to reduce redness of the skin after too much sun exposure and, for those with oily skin, it is recommended to add some lemon juice to this mixture. Our hands can also benefit from tomatoes by handling half a tomato as if it were a bar of soap and then leaving them to dry. Last but not least, tomatoes can also be used as a detergent: to remove verdigris (the green residue on copper, brass or bronze), rub ripe tomato pulp on the object then rinse under water and buff with a woollen cloth.