With summer drawing to a close, tomatoes have finally reached their seasonal peak. Thriving in warm climates and native to western South America and the Galapagos Islands, tomatoes have been cultivated by Mesoamerican civilizations from as far back as 500 BCE. The word "tomato" comes from the Nahuatl word tomatl or “the swelling fruit”. The crop was coveted for both its culinary and spiritual potency until the Spanish colonization in the 16th century when the fruit was brought to Europe, cultivated by farmers and ingrained into the local cuisine where it remains today.
So are too many tomatoes bad for you? Biologically a fruit, they belong to the Nightshade or Solanaceae family, which includes a variety of important agricultural crops including: potatoes, peppers, eggplant, tobacco, paprika, goji berries and cayenne. Other more infamous members of this family include the extremely toxic mandrake, deadly nightshade, henbane and poisonous moonflowers. Tomatoes like all members of the Nightshade family contain alkaloids (also found in cocaine, caffeine, nicotine and codine), which in hypersensitive individuals can impact joint, digestive and nerve-muscle function. Luckily the levels of alkaloids found in nightshade foods are well tolerated and today tomatoes are enjoyed worldwide (about 130 million tons per year)! They are considered one of the most nutritionally beneficial foods and have been shown to help lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. They are an excellent source of potassium, lycopene, vitamins A and C and have even been linked to lowering the risk of prostate cancer. It’s best to always keep your tomatoes at room temperature and try to get the naturally ripened vine-variety, which are sweeter in taste and redder in color.
So why not try some great tomato recipes at home? In our latest digital cookbook, Laurent Gras uses these multifunctional fruits in a variety of dishes ranging from the elegant appetizer-sized stuffed Tomate Antiboise, the light and refreshing Tomato Consommé with Basil and Lemongrass, the traditional Niçoise Ratatouille with Pistou and for seafood lovers, the Striped Bass with Spicy Tomato Sauce and Snapper Carpaccio with Pickled Mushrooms. We hope you enjoy cooking them as much as we did!
All photos © 2012 Shimon and Tammar Photography.