Hi, there. Yes, we’re a fruit all right but everyone thinks we’re a vegetable because we’re used in savoury dishes, but botanically we’re your typical fruit. Remember that the next time you want to trick someone in a trivia game.
We’re related to eggplants, capsicums, chillies and, that’s right, the potato, but we’re not at all like these other food. We have glossy, thin, smooth skin, with a juicy flesh containing numerous soft, edible seeds. Our colour and shape vary considerably depending on our variety and where we come from. The most common red tomato is plump and round, about the size of a tennis ball, with a flattened top. Some varieties are heart-shaped, some are the size and shape of a ping pong ball, some are small and tear drop-shaped, whilst others are egg-shaped. Our colours range from red to yellow-skinned with pink to yellow flesh.
We’re available all year round with our peak being from December to February.
Did you know?
• We gain weight as we ripen - even after being picked
• We are one of the most popular ‘vegetables’ in Australia. Potatoes are number one
• In the Victorian era, anyone seen eating one of us in public was branded a ‘wolf’ and bared from attending choir practice
• We have become an essential ingredient in an array of cuisines, adding colour, juice and flavour to many dishes.
In Australia we’re sold by shape, colour and, sometimes, variety.
We’re a roundish, flat topped, red tomato with pink to red flesh. Our stem and leaf-like calyx are left on and we’re sometimes sold as gourmet, vine-ripened tomatoes. Other large red tomatoes are Beefsteak, Oxheart and Grosse Lisse.
||Roma or Egg tomatoes
We’re normally red and are a firmer-skinned tomato with a sweet, juicy flesh used both fresh and for processing. A yellow form is also sold.
|| Smaller tomatoes are sold as cherry, cocktail or teardrop tomatoes, depending on shape or size. Their sizes are as their name suggests with the teardrop tomatoes being 3-5cm long. These smaller varieties can be red, yellow, or orange-skinned with pink to red, or yellow flesh.
Why Tomatoes are Good to Eat
• It’s hard to imagine, but when Europeans first saw us, they thought we might be poisonous. In fact, we’re highly nutritious and sweetly delicious due to our natural sugars – sucrose and fructose.
• We’re the richest source of lycopene, a carotenoid that scientists think could be important for the health of the prostate gland in men. The riper we are, the more lycopene we have.
• We’re a good source of vitamin C (cherry tomatoes have even more vitamin C) and we supply some vitamin E, folate and dietary fibre.
• Cherry tomatoes and those of us that are deep red in colour are also a source of beta carotene.
• 100g has 65-75kJ.
How Tomatoes are Grown and Harvested
We prefer a warm, dry climate and grow best in well-drained soils. We love the sun so plant us out in the open.
We’re best when we’re planted into the ground as seedlings. You can either grow us from seeds (leave us on your kitchen window sill) or purchase us as seedlings from a nursery. It will take up to 6 weeks from seeds before we’re ready to plant in the garden. It will then take a further 3-4 months before our parent plant has flowered and we’re ready to eat.
Our parent plants are weak-stemmed and usually need support, so are usually grown on trellises. Their green leaves are compound, consisting of small leaflets attached by small stems to a main leaf stem. Yellow flowers are produced in groups or bunches and, when fertilised, produce us.
We must be allowed to ripen if we’re to be at our best. We’re picked when almost ripe or ripe when we have almost finished changing from green to red.
Select those of us which are bright red for immediate use, and pale pink for future use.
How to Keep Tomatoes
Ripen us at room temperature until we are brightly coloured and slightly soft. Refrigerating us before we are ripe will reduce our flavour and ability to ripen to our full potential. We can be refrigerated once ripe but we should be left at room temperature for an hour before using.
Prime Growing Areas
History of Tomatoes
We came from the wild tomato growing in the lower Andes on the west coast of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. We have been cultivated by the Mexicans over the past two thousand years.
We were brought to Europe about the mid-16th century and to England in the late 16th century. We were not really popular as a raw vegetable in England until the late 19th century.
There is no record of our seeds coming out with the First Fleet. However, plants were noticed in convict gardens in Parramatta in 1793 and these could have come out on British ships which stopped at Rio de Janeiro for provisions.
Fun Ways to Eat and Cook Tomatoes
Whether you choose the baby cherry tomato, egg-shaped (Roma), vine-ripened or the so-called ordinary round ones, we are a versatile food and can be used in a great many recipes. Even unripe green tomatoes are delicious when cooked.
Eat us raw after washing and removing the stem end. There is no need to peel us unless stated in the recipe, but if required simply dip us in boiling water for 1-2 minutes until our skin splits, or peel us with a small sharp knife from stem end down.
Use us raw in salads, juice, sandwiches. Bake, stew, pan-fry, barbecue, microwave, stuff, puree and serve as a vegetable, in sauces, soups, pizza, omelettes, casseroles, with meat, chicken and fish and even in cakes.
Have fun trying some of these interesting tomato recipes:
Fried Green Tomatoes
Wash and slice 2 large green tomatoes. Dip in 1 beaten egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water. Drain excess and dip in crushed cornflakes mixed with sesame seeds ensuring both sides are well coated. Pan-fry in equal quantities of butter and oil until golden on both sides.
Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes
Chop the tops off 2 punnets of cherry tomatoes and scoop out seeds. Beat 125g cream cheese until smooth. Stir in 2 tablespoons tomato pulp, 1/4 cup roasted slivered almonds, dash of Tabasco and 1 tablespoon each garlic chives, parsley and dill.
Tacos with Spicy Tomato Sauce
Dice 1 small onion and 1 green capsicum and saute with 2 cloves minced garlic until tender. Add 6 peeled and chopped tomatoes, 1/2 cup chopped celery, 1 teaspoon brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice, dash of Tabasco, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce. 1-2 cups minced beef, lightly browned, can be added into sauce or it can be served on its own with your favourite taco fillings.