Tomatoes are native to mid-latitude regions of the Andes mountains in South America. Originally known as tomatl to the Aztecs, tomatoes were not widely eaten by humans until seeds were brought to Europe where Italians started experimenting with culinary preparations in the mid-1500s.
Nutrition: One cup of chopped tomato contains only 32 calories yet provides 2 grams of fiber!
Tomatoes are sources of the phytochemical lycopene, which gives them a vibrant red color. Lycopene is in the beta-carotene family and supports eye and skin health. Like most carotenoids, lycopene is more easily absorbed by our bodies when cooked.
Fun Facts: In 1897, Joseph Campbell of Campbell Soup fame started preserving tomatoes as condensed tomato soup.
Tomatoes are in the Nightshade family along with potatoes, peppers, and eggplants. While some Nightshade plants are poisonous, tomatoes are not. However, their acidic quality likely leached lead from glass and pewter vessels causing heavy metal toxicity and sometimes death.
Storage Tips: For best flavor, store tomatoes around room temperature. Once their temperature dips below 55 degrees F, ripening stops and flavors dull. Freeze, can, or roast over-ripe tomatoes for later use.
While ketchup is America’s favorite condiment, moderate consumption is advised, as ketchup is a source of both added sugar and sodium.
Umami, the savory fifth culinary flavor, is synonymous with braised meats and mushrooms. Because of their high natural glutamate content, roasted and dried tomatoes are also considered umami.
Cooking: Shelve the canned tomato sauce during summer. Instead, combine cherry tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil in sauce pan, simmer 10 minutes and serve! Cherry tomatoes have more flavor than large tomatoes so are well suited for a quick sauce.
FYI: Tomatoes rank 9th on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list. Wash thoroughly before eating, purchase organic, or grow your own!
Amber Phillips, MS, RD is a registered dietitian at Island Hospital. She has a Master’s degree in nutrition from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA and a Bachelor’s degree in biology from Metropolitan State University, St. Paul, MN. Phillips has a keen interest in community education. “Nutrition advice can be confusing and sometimes conflicting,” says Phillips. “My role as a dietitian is to follow the latest research and make it easy to understand for my patients and the public.” To schedule an appointment with Phillips, call (360) 299-1300 x2567.