I love freshly picked, homegrown tomatoes. The stuff you get in the winter just doesn’t compare. They are such a popular food that I thought I would create a post all about them!
Whether you use tomatoes for salads, pasta sauce, or soup, I have a feeling you eat them and enjoy them. They are common in most cultures around the world, and have a huge range of uses and recipes as a result.
Random tomato story – When tomatoes were first brought to Europe, people thought they were poisonous and would not eat them. It took some brave souls to try the first ones out, but the risk paid off!
Even though tomatoes are used similarly to a vegetable, they are technically a fruit. Finding this information out, after years of believing the opposite, was life altering! Have you had that before – the moment when you learn something is the exact opposite to what you have always known? BAM, your world is thrown into a tailspin.
The rest of this post will teach you how to buy, store, and use tomatoes, give the nutritional breakdown, and explain lycopene and ethylene. Yay tomatoes!!
How to Buy, Store, and Prepare Tomatoes
This may seem pretty basic, but you never know what you are going to learn.
How to Buy
When you are buying tomatoes, check to make sure they are still firm with no visible bruising. If you find that one feels a little heavier than the rest, this probably just means it has a higher water content and will be extra juicy when you cut into it. Avoid the ones that are wrinkly or soft because these are the ones that are going bad.
Ugly tomatoes are a great purchase if your local store has a section for them. We have been told that tomatoes and food in general must look a certain way for it to be edible, but this is a lie. Food can be misshapen, have minor cuts, look dull, etc, and still be perfectly edible. A lot of food waste comes from fruit and veggies that don’t look good enough to be on store shelves. I have noticed that more stores are starting to carry these ‘ugly’ foods in a special section usually with discounted pricing! Bonus.
When buying canned tomatoes, check to make sure there is no added sugar and salt (or as little added salt as possible.) It is also good to find out if the can is BPA free, especially with tomatoes. They are acidic and BPA migration can be higher in acidic foods compared to others.
How to Store
To store tomatoes, it is suggested to keep them at room temperature. This leaves them with the most flavour and the best texture, as opposed to keeping them in the fridge. When you need to keep them fresh longer, the fridge is the next best option.
To speed up the ripening process, people swear by placing them in a paper bag stem side up with a banana. I have tried this with the homegrown, green tomatoes I saved from frost, and it sounds bonkers, but it works!
It is also easy to freeze tomatoes if you find that you’re drowning in them. Just cut them to a usable size, lay them out on a cookie sheet, and place in the freezer. When they are frozen, put them in a storage container and put back in the freezer. Thawed tomatoes are great for sauces and stir fries.
Tomatoes from the garden – I usually have a lot of tomatoes that haven’t ripened by the time the first frost hits, and I have found that putting all the little green ones in a box and then storing with no lid in the cold room keeps them edible for a long time. The problem I have with this method is that I have been known to forget about them and some get a little soggy. Oops!
How to Prepare
Eating tomatoes can be as simple as chopping one up and throwing it in a salad or as time intensive as creating a seedless and skinless sauce.
You can also bake tomatoes, put them in a stir fry, bread and fry them, or create your own ketchup or salsa.
Check out these tomato recipes to get you out of your tomato comfort zone!
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Why Do Store-Bought Tomatoes Never Taste As Good?
Have you noticed how the tomatoes you buy in the winter have maybe 1/8 of the flavour of the fresh, summer fruit?
This is because of the way tomatoes are picked, shipped, and sold. When they are grown conventionally, tomatoes are picked green and immature. To have the tomatoes turn that beautiful red-orange colour by the time we see them on the shelves, ethylene gas is used to ripen them. This extends the life of the fruit considerably, but we are left with the flavour of an immature tomato.
(Note- ethylene is a natural hormone that tomatoes give off as it ripens, although the stuff that is sprayed is not natural.)
What’s in a tomato? I have often wondered about the composition of whole foods, so here is the breakdown of a tomato:
- 95% water
- 5% fiber and carbohydrates
In 1 cup of tomato you will get about 1.6g protein, 7g carbohydrates, and 0.4g fat. These are the macronutrients that keep us alive, give us energy, and make us strong among many other things. Of the carbohydrates, 70% is simple sugars and the remaining is fiber. In the end, tomatoes are a good source of fiber and are low in carbohydrates.
They are also a good source of vitamins C and K as well as potassium. Every whole food contains a bunch of micronutrients and phytonutrients that all work synergistically.
Whole foods are the best choice for healthy eating because of this – nature knows what we need because our bodies are a part of it. Everything in the tomato works together to make each vitamin and mineral more useful in our body.
(If you are interested in this topic, check out the book Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition by T. Colin Campbell. It explains how, for example, the actual amount of vitamin A in an apple can be exponentially raised when eaten as a whole food.)
There is also another aspect of tomatoes you may have heard of before and that is lycopene. It is a phytonutrient which are the aspects of a food that give it the colour, taste, and smell that we associate with it. Phytonutrients are said to outnumber macro and micronutrients 10,000 to 1, and there is some really cool research going on in this area.
Lycopene is a carotenoid and one of the most important phytonutrients in the tomato. It is what gives the tomato its beautiful red colour, and the quantities are the highest in the skin.
It is an antioxidant which means that it is able to reduce free radicals in the body and the damage they can cause. This is particularly useful for the cardiovascular system, certain cancers, and aging.
Lycopene is seen to have higher bioavailability when cooked or processed than in raw tomatoes, but it is still recommended to eat them raw for other benefits. Eating tomatoes with a source of fat will also increase absorption because lycopene is fat soluble.
Tomatoes are a great addition to any diet for both health and flavour. They are easy to grow, buy, store, and they can easily be added to any meal.
Adding more whole foods into your diet is a sure way to get the health and vibrancy you have always dreamt of having! There is no better day to start than this one.
Yours in plant love,
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Elson M Haas, MD. “Staying Healthy With Nutrition.” New York: Celestial Arts, 2006. 295 – 299.
Nutrition, Authority. authoritynutrition.com/foods. n.d. 27 March 2017.
Nutrition, Precision. precisionnutrition.com/encylopedia. n.d. 27 March 2017.