Native to the western regions of South America, but first cultivated in Mexico, it wasn't until the 1500's that Spanish explorers introduced tomatoes to European populations, and even then, they were often seen as unfit to eat. Today tomatoes are enjoyed worldwide at roughly 130 million tons per year. Botanically speaking, the tomato is both fruit and berry, but culinarily speaking, tomatoes are vegetables due to their cooking methods. The tomato comes in hundreds of varieties that vary in shape, size and color.
Although nutrient levels will vary among varieties, tomatoes in general are widely known for their antioxidant content, including their rich concentration of lycopene. Tomatoes have been linked to heart health, bone health and even to lessening the risk of some cancers, including prostate cancer and possibly breast cancer. Research also has shown that tomatoes may help to lower cholesterol and possibly reduce the risk of neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, tomatoes are a great sources of vitamin C, beta-carotene, manganese and vitamin E, and they are off the chart in regards to phytonutrient content. Research has shown that lycopene contents are higher when the whole tomato is used, so it makes sense to try to develop recipes that utilize the entire tomato.
Although tomatoes are available year-round across the U.S., some of the most delicious tomato flavors come from fresh tomatoes that have been planted in late spring or early summer and ripen from July through September. Choose tomatoes that have rich colors – from deep reds to vibrant oranges/tangerines, brilliant yellows and rich purples, they all provide outstanding nutrient benefits. Tomatoes should be well shaped and smooth skinned with no wrinkles, cracks, bruises or soft spots. It is also a good idea to avoid using aluminum cookware when cooking tomatoes. The high acid content of the tomatoes could interact with the metal in the cookware and thereby add aluminum to your food, which is not only unpleasant in taste, but could be potentially hazardous to your health.
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