views updated May 29 2018


TOMATO. The Lycopersicon genus of the Solanaceae family originated along the coastal highlands of western South America. The genus is composed of nine generally accepted species, of which only two are used for culinary purposes: L. esculentum, the common tomato, and, to a much smaller extent, L. pimpinellifolium. Ripe, raw tomatoes consist of approximately 93 percent water. Consuming one hundred grams of raw tomatoes provides seventeen grams of carbohydrates, three grams of protein, twenty-three grams of vitamin C, or about forty percent of the adult recommended daily allowance (RDA), and about nine hundred international units of vitamin A, or about 30 percent of the adult RDA. Today, the tomato is one of the most commonly eaten foods in the world with almost every cuisine employing them in some form.

In the United States, tomatoes are second only to potatoes in U.S. vegetable consumption. During the 1980s and 1990s, U.S. annual per capita use of tomatoes and tomato products has increased by nearly 30 percent, reaching an annual total fresh-weight equivalent of 91 pounds per person by 1999. By that date, the total world production was 111.1 million short tons. Until recently, the United States was the world's largest tomato producer. However, during 1999 China was ranked the largest tomato producer with 18 million short tons, followed by the United States (12.7 million short tons), Turkey, Egypt, and Italy.

The Spread of the Tomato

Although the tomato originated in South America, little evidence has surfaced indicating that indigenous peoples in South America ate tomatoes before the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century. In pre-Columbian times the tomato migrated by unknown means to Central America, where it was domesticated by Mesoamerican peoples. When the Europeans arrived, tomatoes were consumed only in a narrow geographical area from Central America to Mexico City. This lack of widespread diffusion has led observers to conclude that tomatoes were a late addition to the culinary repertoire of Mesoamerica. The Spanish first encountered tomatoes after their conquest of Mexico began in 1519. Tomato plants were disseminated first to the Caribbean, and then to Spainand Italy. From Central America, domesticated tomatoes were introduced into South America by the Spanish Conquistadors. Toward the end of the sixteenth century, tomatoes traveled west to the Philippines, from where they were introduced into Indonesia and later onto the Asian mainland.

Tomatoes were consumed in southern Italy and Spain by the mid-sixteenth century. The first published record of the tomato appeared in an 1544 Italian herbal. By the late seventeenth century, the first known tomato recipes appeared in the cookbook Lo scalco alla moderna (Naples, 1692), by Antonio Latini. By this time, tomatoes were also consumed in the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa. Tomato cookery took off in southern France late in the eighteenth century and tomato recipes appeared in French cookbooks by the early nineteenth century. Tomatoes were cultivated in England by 1597; however, little evidence for British consumption has been found prior to the mid-eighteenth century.

Beginning in the seventeenth century, Spanish colonists introduced tomatoes into their settlements in Florida, New Mexico, Texas, and California. As English settlers visited and occupied territories previously controlled or influenced by Spain and Mexico, they were exposed to tomato cookery. Some American colonists ate tomatoes as early as the mid-eighteenth century, although only one colonial cookery manuscript is known to have contained a tomato recipe. From the Southern states, tomato culture slowly spread up the Atlantic coast and into rural areas. By the early nineteenth century, tomato recipes frequently appeared in American cookery manuscripts and cookbooks. By the mid-nineteenth century, tomatoes were a common part of cookery throughout western Europe, the Mediterranean and the Americas. Tomato cookery later expanded into Northern and Eastern Europe, and finally spread to sub-Saharan Africa, and South and East Asia.


Traditionally, all aspects of tomato sowing, growing, and harvesting were accomplished by hand. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, machinery began to assist farmers in planting, sowing, and weeding. Although all fresh tomatoes continue to be picked by hand today, tomatoes used for processing are picked by mechanical harvesters, which were first successfully employed in California during the 1950s.

Beginning in the early nineteenth century, tomatoes were bottled by the Frenchman Nicholas Appert. In the United States, tomato canning and bottling began in New Jersey during the 1840s. It expanded during the Civil War, and by 1870 tomatoes were among the top three canned products in America. Tomato cultivation increased in northern states, such as Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, and spread south and west after the war. Today, California grows the largest number of tomatoes, with about 80 percent of total U.S. production.

Tomato Canning

The major use of tomatoes is the canning of four major products: whole tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and tomato soup. The first canneries processed whole tomatoes. These efforts began in the 1850s and were labor-intensive operations. The fruit were skinned, cored, and trimmed. Cans were fashioned by hand, and the seams were soldered on. These were then boiled in water. The cans were hand-filled, then given to the cappers, who soldered on the lids one at a time. A few days later the cans were hand labeled, loaded onto wagons, and carted to stores.

Before long, every stage of the canning operation had a machine associated with its operation. Devices for capping, filling, scalding, topping, and wiping were introduced, as were power hoists and cranes. Wrapping and boxing machines also soon came into use. Equipment manufacturers developed lines of interconnected equipment. New machinery was released about 1903, providing for the fully automated manufacture of sanitary cans. By the 1920s, the process of canning tomatoes was fully automated. From the time tomatoes arrived by truck until the canned goods were shipped out the back door, the tomatoes were never touched by human hands. Subsequent developments in machinery sped up the process and made it more efficient.

During the 1950s, evaporators originally developed for the dairy industry were adapted for use in tomato processing. The evaporators rapidly remove water and concentrate the pulp to forty-two percent solids. Some concentrate is frozen via flash coolers, which remove water and heat, as the paste falls through the machine. The chilled concentrate is then stored in drums and used when needed. Other concentrate is pumped into aseptic bags, which exclude outside air. Framed in collapsible wooden boxes, the bags are placed on trucks and shipped to factories for conversion into tomato products.

Ketchup Production

Another major use of tomatoes in the United States is in the production of ketchup. Initially, ketchup production began as an attempt to use leftovers from the canning process. These scraps were placed in barrels during the high canning season in September and October and were saved for later conversion into ketchup. As tomato ketchup became more popular, factories emerged that specialized solely in its production. Because the bright red color of the ketchup was an important selling point, ketchup was placed in bottles so that the consumer could see its color. Long narrow-nosed bottles with small holes were employed to reduce contact with air, which oxidized ketchup and turned it a deep dark color. Early ketchup bottlers had great difficulty preventing the introduction of air through the cap. In the early part of the twentieth century researchers developed improved glass bottles that would not shatter during the manufacturing process. Corks were covered with a metal cap that effectively sealed the bottle from contact with outside air. As capping technology improved, screw caps replaced corks.

Early ketchups were thin and were easy to pour out of the small hole at the top of the bottles. After the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, thick ketchup became the norm in order to meet the new federal standards. Thick ketchups were difficult to pour through the narrow spout, but consumers were already familiar with the narrow nosed bottle and commercial manufacturers had invested time, effort, and funds in creating an image for their bottle.

Packaging changes since the 1970s have greatly increased ketchup usage. The H. J. Heinz Company, the largest ketchup producer in the world, introduced the Vol-Pak, a plastic bag filled aseptically with ketchup. Designed for foodservice operators, restaurants placed the bag on a rack and refilled plastic bottles. The Vol-Pak soon replaced cans. During the 1980s, two additional packaging revolutions occurred: the single-serve ketchup pouch, for which production increased from half a million cases to five million cases in just ten years; and the squeezable plastic ketchup bottle, which was easier to use, and almost unbreakable. By the 1990s, sixty percent of all U.S. ketchup was sold in plastic containers.

Preparation and Consumption

Tomatoes were employed by pre-Columbian Aztecs and other indigenous peoples of Central America for making sauces, particularly in combination with chili peppers and ground squash seeds. After the Spanish conquest, vinegar was added to the tomato and chili peppers to produce salsa. Numerous other uses for the tomato were developed in Mexico and Central America. In Europe, the first tomato recipe appeared in an 1544 Italian herbal, which recommended that tomatoes should be fried in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. Variations of this recipe were published regularly in Europe and later in the Americas. Within a hundred years, tomatoes were well established in southern Italian cookery. The first tomato recipe appeared in a British cookbook in the late eighteenth century. The first known American tomato recipe appeared in Harriott Pinckney Horry's cookery manuscript, dated 1770.

Tomato recipes regularly appeared in American cookbooks by 1792. Early recipes fell into several major categories; the most important was tomato sauce, which originated in Italy and Spain and had migrated to southern France before 1800. Tomato sauce was used on beef, veal, fowl, chicken, rabbit, sweetmeats, pork, macaroni, fish, shrimp, and pigeon. Tomatoes were used to make marmalades, soups, gumbos, gazpacho, ketchups, sweet-breads, jumbles, dumplings, puddings, jelly, figs, omelets, and many other dishes. Tomatoes were stewed, baked, fried, stuffed, hashed, pickled, broiled, scalloped, forced, pickled, and preserved. Green tomatoes were consumed from the beginning, and sometimes were used for seasoning and gravy. Tomatoes were combined with many other vegetables to be consumed as side dishes, including okra and potatoes. Tomatoes were served raw at all meals. Raw tomatoes were seasoned with sugar, molasses, vinegar, salt, pepper, mustard, or milk. The most common way to eat raw tomatoes was sliced and seasoned, like cucumbers, with vinegar, salt, and pepper. Others plucked them from the vine and ate them like ripe fruit, without seasoning.

American restaurants were opened toward the end of the eighteenth century, mostly by French refugees. Their clientele consisted of businessmen and an increasingly affluent upper class. Tomatoes were served in these restaurants at least by the 1820s and probably much earlier. From their inception, restaurants offered a variety of tomato dishes. Tomatoes were noted on hotel menus by 1825. By the 1840s the diversity of tomato dishes dramatically increased.

Tomatoes were also employed to make beverages. The earliest beverages were alcoholic: beer, whisky, champagne, and wine, none of which were particularly successful. The drinking of tomato juice was a mid-twentieth-century phenomenon. According to several accounts, tomato juice was the creation of the American-born French Chef Louis Perrin, who in 1917 served tomato juice to his guests at a resort in French Lick Springs, Indiana. However, none of the early products yielded juice with just the right color and flavor. The reason for the failure of canned tomato juice was that tomato solids settled at the bottom of the can or in the glass when poured out. In 1928, this problem was solved by Ralph Kemp of Frankfort, Indiana, who used a viscolizer previously employed in the manufacture of ice cream. Tomato juice was an instant hit with the American public. Heinz and the Campbell Soup Company moved into high gear to produce tomato juice. One reason that tomato juice was so successful was the end of prohibition. A cocktail made of tomato juice and vodka was probably first developed at Harry's Bar in Paris by Ferdinand "Pete" Petiot, who moved to New York in 1933 and introduced his new creation. After experimentation, he added Worcestershire sauce and called it a Bloody Mary.

Another tomato product was V8 vegetable juice, a blend of eight vegetables along with several flavor-enhancers. It had been conceived in 1933 by W. G. Peacock of Evanston, Illinois. Several people worked on the formula. Peacock interested three investors, and the New England Products Company was created. The product was first created in 1936 under the name "Veg-min" juice. At the first store that sold it, a clerk suggested that they change its name to "V-8," which Peacock did. Later the hyphen was removed and the product was marketed as V8 Cocktail Vegetable Juices. Peacock's entire operation was accomplished by hand, and he only had the ability to produce twenty-five cases per day. V8 juice was a success, but he did not have sufficient manufacturing capability to meet the demand. Peacock sold the V8 formula, and in 1948 the product ended up at the Campbell Soup Company, which is the largest tomato user in the world.

Relation to Human Biology

While there are many reasons for identifying the tomato as a healthy vegetable, the specific attributes that have generated the latest interest are the carotenoids, a family of pigments found in yellow, orange, and red vegetables and in green leafy vegetables. There are over six hundred carotenoids, but the predominant one in tomatoes is lycopene, a pigment that gives tomatoes their red color. The human body cannot manufacture Lycopene or other carotenoids. Some studies have offered evidence that foods rich in antioxidants and carotenoids may play a role in preventing certain types of cancer. Dr. Edward Giovannucci, an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health and the Department of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School, examined responses of fifty thousand participants in the Harvard University Professionals Health Study that began in 1986. He concluded that the consumption of four vegetables and fruits were associated with lower prostate cancer risk: three of the foods he cited were tomato sauce, tomatoes, and pizza. Lycopene is present in each of these. The risk of prostate cancer was one third lower in men who ate tomato-based products. In another study in northern Italy, a high correlation was drawn between tomato consumption and the lack of cancers of the digestive track. Of the 2,700 respondents, those who consumed seven or more servings of raw tomatoes every week had 60 percent less chance of developing cancer of the colon, rectum, and stomach.

Diets with abundant tomatoes cooked in oil were more readily absorbed than other forms of tomato. Pizzas and raw tomatoes were also protective against prostate cancer, but tomato juice was not. Giovannucci believed that cooking broke down the tomatoes' cell walls, releasing more lycopene, and that the oil enhanced absorption of the fat-soluble carotenoid. In the case of raw tomatoes, salad oil may have contributed in a similar manner.


The tomato has become deeply entwined with popular culture throughout the world. In Japan a bank is named for it. In America tomato is slang for an attractive woman. Perhaps the most universal activity has been tomato throwing, a tradition that dates from the mid-nineteenth century. This tradition started in rural areas and moved to theaters to express lack of appreciation. Recently politicians have been the favorite target of tomato throwers. During the late 1940s, tomato throwing became an organized event in Bunyol, a town 25 miles west of the Mediterranean city of Valencia, Spain. The Tomatina festival, held on the last Wednesday in August, has been officially sponsored by the city since 1979. More than 30,000 people pelt each other and the city with tomatoes for a hour.

Other tomato festivals are held in other countries, including the United States. The Reynoldsburg Tomato Festival in Ohio attracts 35,000 residents who engage in tomato contests and consume tomato cookery. The Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival, held just north of Santa Rosa, California, featured tastings from more than 100 heirloom tomato varieties.

Contemporary Issues

Beginning in the 1950s, botanists induced genetic mutations with X rays and chemicals. These mutants were mainly of interest to researchers. The research, however, encouraged further investigations into the chromosomal structure of the tomato, making more sophisticated alterations possible. During the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, this research began to be productive. In a project funded by Campbell's Soup Company, Calgene, Inc., in Davis, California, genetically engineered the first tomato, called MacGregor's, which was slow-ripening and transportable over great distances.

Calgene had conducted research concluding that the rapid softening of ripe tomatoes was caused by an enzyme called Polygalacturonase, or PG. Calgene spliced into the tomato's genes an extra one to cancel out the effect of the PG enzyme, and thus created the Flavr Savr. Thus, the tomato remained firmer in its last week and could be left on the vine to ripen for extra days. After a week or so of extra firmness, the Calgene tomato softens and decays like other tomatoes. The company voluntarily presented their genetically altered tomato to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval. The genetically engineered tomato was approved by the FDA's Food Advisory Committee. Since 1994, genetically altered tomatoes have been sold in grocery stores. Other genetically engineered tomatoes are under development. Other companies with strong biotech programs include DNA Plant Technology, Petroseed, Monsanto, Pioneer, and Dupont.

Many critics have strongly opposed genetic engineering of the tomato as presenting an unacceptable risk for humans. Some grocery stores have refused to sell genetically engineered tomatoes, while others have agreed to identify them as genetically engineered. Restaurants have announced that they will boycott the new "mutant" tomatoes. A major concern is that there is no requirement that the genetically altered foods be labeled as such. Many critics believe they have the right to know which products have been altered and which are natural.

See also Fruit ; Genetic Engineering ; Packaging and Canning, History of ; Potato ; Vegetables .


Collins, Douglas. America's Favorite Food: The Story of Campbell Soup Company. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994. The history of Campbell Soup Company, the largest tomato user in the world, and the largest producer of tomato soup.

Gould, Wilbur. Tomato Production, Processing and Technology. 3d ed. Baltimore, Md.: CTI Publications, 1992.

Livingston, Alexander. Livingston and the Tomato. Reprint. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1998.

Nevins, Donald J., and Richard A. Jones, eds. Tomato Biotechnology. New York: Alan R. Liss, 1987.

Rick, Charles, "Genetic Resources in Lycopersicon," in Donald J. Nevins and Richard A. Jones, Tomato Biotechnology. New York: Alan R. Liss, 1987.

Smith, Andrew F. Pure Ketchup: The History of America's National Condiment. Columbia: The University of South Carolina Press, 1996.

Smith, Andrew F. Souper Tomatoes: The Story of America's Favorite Food. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2000.

Smith, Andrew F. The Tomato in America: Early History, Culture, and Cookery. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994.

Tracy, Will W. The Tomato Culture. New York: Orange Judd Co., 1907.

Andrew F. Smith

The First Known American Tomato Recipe

To Keep Tomatoos for Winter use

Take ripe Tomatas, peel them, and cut them in four and put them into a stew pan, strew over them a great quantity of Pepper and Salt; cover it up close and let it stand an Hour, then put it on the fire and let it stew quick till the liquor is intirely boild away; then take them up and put it into pint Potts, and when cold pour melted butter over them about an inch thick. They commonly take a whole day to stew. Each pot will make two Soups.

N.B. if you do them before the month of Oct they will not keep.

SOURCE: Harriott Pinckney Horry Papers, 28. The Collections of the South Carolina Historical Society.

The Tomato: Vegetable or Fruit?

The edible portion of the tomato is botanically a fruit (defined as a ripened ovary!) as is the edible portion of melons, cucumbers, eggplants, and hot and sweet peppers. However, these plants are considered vegetables both horticulturally and in common English usage. A vegetable in the culinary sense is thought of as an edible herbaceous (soft-stemmed) plant of which some part is eaten, often in the main part of a meal; this includes the fruit as in tomato, the leaves in lettuce, the stem in asparagus, the root in beet, and the seed in the garden pea. The edible portions are also referred to as vegetables. Fruit plants in the horticultural sense are plants in which a more or less succulent fruit or closely related structure is eaten (but usually as a dessert or a snack). In this case the edible portion is also called a fruit, even if it is not clearly a fruit botanically. We call a strawberry a fruit, but it is the hard little seeds that are the botanical fruits (one-seeded fruits called achenes). Fruit plants are most often perennial and usually woody (exceptions include strawberry and banana, which are not truly woody). Fruit plants with fruits borne on trees are termed tree fruits, fruits borne on low-growing plants are called small fruits, and those on vines are called vine fruits. Nuts are a special sub-category of fruits characterized by having a hard shell separating the inner kernel of the seed. There is no precise distinction that can be made between the terms "fruit" and "vegetable." In the case of tomato, confusion can be avoided by referring to it as a "vegetable fruit." In 1893 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the tomato was legally a vegetable in a decision resolving a dispute concerning import duties, making an important legal point that the meanings of terms used in laws and statutes refer to common everyday meanings, not necessarily the scientific meanings.

See also Fruit: Temperate Fruit; Horticulture; Naming of Food; Nuts.

Jules Janick

Love Apples

I gather love-apples very ripe, when they have acquired their beautiful colour. Having washed and drained them, I cut them into pieces, and dissolve them over the fire in a copper vessel well tinned. When they are well dissolved and reduced one third in compass, I strain them through a sieve sufficiently fine to hold the kernels. When the whole has passed through, I replace the decoction on the fire, and I condense it till there remains only one third of the first quantity. Then I let them become cool in stone pans, and put them in bottles, &c. in order to give them one, good boiling only, in the water-bath.

SOURCE: Nicholas Appert, The Art of Preservation. New York: D. Longworth, 1812. pp. 5354.


views updated May 21 2018

to·ma·to / təˈmātō; -ˈmätō/ • n. (pl. -oes) 1. a glossy red, or occasionally yellow, pulpy edible fruit that is typically eaten as a vegetable or in salad. ∎  the bright red color of a ripe tomato. 2. the widely cultivated South American plant (Lycopersicon esculentum) of the nightshade family that produces this fruit.DERIVATIVES: to·ma·to·ey / -ˈmātō-ē; -ˈmätō-ē/ adj.


views updated May 18 2018

tomato The fruit of Lycopersicon esculentum introduced into England as an ornamental plant in 1596. One medium‐sized tomato or six cherry tomatoes (85 g) is a good source of vitamin C; provides 1.3 g of dietary fibre; supplies 13 kcal (54 kJ). A 100‐mL portion of tomato juice is a rich source of vitamin C; a source of vitamin A (as carotene); provides 3 g of dietary fibre; supplies 12 kcal (50 kJ).


views updated May 17 2018

tomato Fruit plant native to the Americas. The plant was cultivated in Europe as early as 1544. It was not eaten until the 16th century because it was believed to be poisonous. Species Lycopersicum esculentum. The small, cherry tomato is a variety (L.e. cerasiforme). Family Solanaceae.


views updated Jun 11 2018

tomato XVII (tomate). — F. or Sp., Pg. tomate — Nahuatl tomatl; tomato, tomata, and tomatum were pseudo-Sp. and L. modifications (XVIII).


views updated Jun 27 2018