Lycopersicon esculentum

Lycopersicon esculentum

Ah, the tomato … lycopersicon esculentum.

From its humble origins, it has evolved into one of the world’s great fruits, ever the trick question posed to school kids: is it a fruit or is it a vegetable?

Yet, we don’t actually eat it is as a fruit because it has, in fact, so little sugar. Rather, a fresh ripe tomato captures, at least in the mind’s eye of my idealistic taste buds, the flavor of the sun.

A relative to chilli peppers, potatoes and eggplant, the tomato started off as a small berry in South America. Its name comes from the Aztec for “plump fruit;” yet, it was a plump fruit only making it to dinner tables in England in the 18th century. The Elizabethans had set the nefarious tone for tomatoes when they assumed it was poisonous because it is a member of the deadly nightshade family.

However, by their chemical nature, in addition to sunshine tomatoes have quite a bit of glutamic acid which is found in meats. Perhaps that is why many people like ketchup on their steaks: glutamines that grow together go together.

Tomato varieties (Photo: WREats).

We have access to an unbelieveable 300 varieties or so of tomatoes in Ontario, like Beefsteak, Roma, Pilgrim, Redstar and Plum to name only a few. There has been considerable and growing interest in heirloom varieties of late, too. A medium-sized tomato only has 25 calories, is a great source of vitamin-C, and reduces your net intake of cholesterol.

Tomatoes are best stored at room temperature, ironically away from the direct sunlight whose flavour they capture so well. Don’t put them in the refrigerator unless they are very ripe. And something that I always do is remove the ripe ones from the crisper to come to room temperature before using.

Of course, tomatoes can go into countless dishes, but I like them best sliced with a drizzle of excellent olive oil, some good balsamic vinegar, and some freshly chopped basil. It’s hard to improve on sunshine but that combination comes close.

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