Tomatoes – The Worlds Most Popular Fruit
Surprisingly, the tomato is the world’s most popular fruit. And yes, just like the brinjal and the pumpkin, botanically speaking it is a fruit, not a vegetable. More than 60 million tons of tomatoes are produced per year, 16 million tons more than the second most popular fruit, the banana. Apples are the third most popular (36 million tons), then oranges (34 million tons) and watermelons (22 million tons).
Tomatoes were first cultivated in 700 AD by Aztecs and Incas. Explorers returning from Mexico introduced the tomato into Europe, where it was first mentioned in 1556. The French called it “the apple of love,” the Germans “the apple of paradise.”
Tomatoes are rich in vitamins A and C and fiber, and are cholesterol free. An average size tomato (148 gram, or 5 oz) boasts only 35 calories. Furthermore, new medical research suggests that the consumption of lycopene – the stuff that makes tomatoes red – may prevent cancer. Lycopene is part of the family of pigments called carotenoids, which are natural compounds that create the colours of fruits and vegetables. For example, beta carotene is the orange pigment in carrots. As with essential amino acids, they are not produced by the human body. Lycopene us the most powerful antioxidant in the carotenoid family and, with vitamins C and E, protect us from the free radicals that degrade many parts of the body.
The scientific term for the common tomato is lycopersicon lycopersicum, which mean “wolf peach.” It is a cousin of the eggplant, red pepper, ground cherry, potato, and the highly toxic belladonna, also known as the nightshade or solanaccae. There are more than 10,000 varieties of tomatoes.
Tomatoes are used in many food product, including, of course, tomato sauce (ketchup), pasta and pizza. According to a Steel Packing Council survey of 1997, 68% of chefs use canned tomatoes for convenience, quality and flavouring. It hasn’t changed much since.
While California is far and away the world’s largest producer of processed tomatoes, accounting for nearly half of the world’s total production, the “love apple” is also an international hit, being grown in such diverse nations as Italy, Argentina, Algeria, Taiwan, Australia and Chile.
California grows nine out of every 10 tomatoes processed in the U.S., with a crop value exceeding $547 million.
As hard as other states work to catch up, California’s prolific canners process more tomatoes in a few days than Ohio, the second largest producing state, processes during the entire season.
With California’s processed tomato tonnage skyrocketing from 3.3 million tons in 1970 to 10.75 million tons in 1994, California tomato acreage has more than doubled from 141,300 acres in 1970 to 311,000 in 1994.
Moist, dry, salty or sandy, the tomato can be grown in a surprising range of climates and in almost any soil. In California, tomatoes seem to grow EVERYWHERE–from the far northern portions of the state in Butte County clear to the Mexican border.
A virtual tomato seed smorgasbord, the Tomato Genetics Stock Center at the University of California, Davis has more than 2,750 genetic varieties of tomatoes.
California’s tomato season is in it’s peak from July through September when harvesters run 24 hours a day. The season, however, actually runs a full six months, beginning in June and running all the way through November.
The largest tomato on record is a 7-pound monster grown in Oklahoma.