Tomatoes – Health Benefits, Nutrition Facts & How to Select, Store & Prepare - NOURISH Cooking Co.

Tomatoes – Health Benefits, Nutrition Facts & How to Select, Store & Prepare

Vegetable or fruit? It’s an argument that can be heard everywhere from the schoolyard to the retirement home. But what’s the right answer?

The answer is, it’s both!

The Solanum Lycopersicum, or tomato for short, is technically a fruit because they form from a flower and contain seeds.

That also means avocados, corn, cucumbers, and eggplants are all technically fruits as well, though some are also classified as vegetables.

However, since tomatoes are widely utilized in the kitchen like a vegetable, in 1893 the US Supreme Court declared that the tomato should be classified as a vegetable.

So, no matter what side of the argument you’re on, you’re technically correct.

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The tomato, a member of the Solanaceae, or nightshade, family along with potatoes, eggplants, and chilies, is believed to have originated in early Aztec civilizations in the Americas around 700 A.D. Its Aztec name, ‘tomatl,’ is where we derive the English word ‘tomato.’

In the 16th century, tomatoes were introduced to the Europeans and were quickly accepted into the kitchen throughout Southern Europe. As the tomato moved north, there was a bit more resistance.

The tomato was admired by the British for its beauty, but it was believed that it was poisonous — many members of the nightshade family are. One of its nicknames was ‘wolf peach,’ suggesting that eating it could be dangerous.

Until the late 1800s, tomatoes were grown simply for ornamental purposes. Once it was accepted that tomatoes were, in fact, not poisonous, tomato recipes spread like wildfire.

By the 1850s, the tomato — often called the ‘love apple’ for its mythical aphrodisiac effects — was one of the most popular plants in the US. Since then, Americans enjoy over 12 million tons of tomatoes per year and tomatoes are now regarded as a staple item in the kitchen throughout the world!

The Top Health Benefits of Tomatoes
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The Top Health Benefits of Tomatoes

Tomatoes help support heart health

Tomatoes are your heart’s best friend. Containing high amounts of lycopene and beta-carotene, tomatoes help decrease the risk of heart attacks and strokes. They do this by decreasing blood pressure and ridding the body of LDL (bad) cholesterol.

In the arteries, tomatoes prevent the buildup of plaque, keeping your arteries clear and your blood pressure at a healthy rate.

Tomatoes also have benefits against inflammation and oxidative stress, reducing the risk of developing Type 1 and 2 diabetes, arthritis, and obesity.

Tomatoes may help prevent cancer

According to observational studies, tomatoes may help decrease the chance of numerous types of cancer, including prostate, lung, breast, and stomach cancers. This amazing health benefit is thanks to the tomato’s carotenoids.

Carotenoids are what produce yellow, orange, and red pigments in foods and animals. They also act as antioxidants in the body, protecting you from DNA damage that can lead to cancer.

Tomatoes help support skin health

Tomatoes are proven to be beneficial for skin health. Their high vitamin C content stimulates collagen production in the skin, improving the skin’s elasticity and strength. Vitamin C, as well as lycopene and other plant compounds which tomato-based foods contain, can also protect against sunburn.

According to one study, people who ingested 1.3 ounces (40 grams) of tomato paste with olive oil every day for 10 weeks experienced 40% fewer sunburns.

Buying Tomatoes: What to Look For
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Tomatoes help support skin health

Tomatoes are available year-round, but their peak season is from June to September. Most tomatoes in the US come from California and Florida, but they can grow in any relatively hot climate.

When looking for the best tomatoes to buy, it’s best to know what variety of tomatoes you want first.

Plum tomatoes are egg-shaped. They are approximately 3 inches long with an inch or two in diameter and are available in red or yellow. Their rich flavor makes them perfect for sauces, cooking, and canning. They also taste great roasted.

Cherry tomatoes are an inch or less in diameter with a bright red or yellow color. They’re very sweet and satisfyingly crisp. They can be eaten raw as a snack, garnish, or an addition to salads and pasta.

Grape tomatoes are small and oval-shaped and come in red, yellow, and orange. They’re slightly smaller than cherry and plum tomatoes and have a memorable tangy, yet sweet flavor that’s perfect for salads, pasta, and snacks.

Beefsteak tomatoes are classic large, red tomatoes. They’re meaty, very juicy, and have a mild flavor. These tomatoes are used for salsas, sauces, and sandwiches, and can be grilled.

Green tomatoes are similar to beefsteak tomatoes in size and shape, but that’s where the similarities end. They have a very crisp texture but taste tangy. They’re best used in salads and juices. They can also be pickled and grilled.

Heirloom tomatoes are about the same size as beefsteak tomatoes and come in various colors — mainly red, yellow, green, and purple. Their shape is more wrinkled than most tomatoes, and they can range from very sweet to tangy. They’re best used for grilling, roasting, salads, and sandwiches.

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Regardless of variety, make sure to look for plump, heavy tomatoes with relatively smooth skins. Avoid any tomatoes with bruises, blemishes, dark spots, or deep cracks. However, fine cracks at the stem ends of ripe tomatoes do not affect their flavor.

Make sure the tomato has a good weight for its size. Its heaviness indicates how juicy the tomato is. The tomato that you select should be firm, but soft enough to squeeze.

When you smell the tomato near the stem, the tomato should be very aromatic with a sweet woody smell. If the tomato has no smell, it will not be flavorful.

Once you’ve chosen your tomatoes and brought them home, store them at room temperature. Tomatoes stored in the refrigerator are likely to be dried out, mealy, and tasteless. Meanwhile, tomatoes stored on a counter or in the fruit bowl will stay fresh and tasty for about a week.

Also, store the tomatoes so they are stem-side down on a flat surface. The area where the stem is attached is sensitive and moisture and bacteria can enter through this area, causing the tomato to rot. To slow this process down, you can tape the top of the tomato with scotch tape.

Cooking With Tomatoes 
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Tomatoes are extremely versatile when it comes to cooking. They can be eaten raw as a garnish for salads and appetizers, or used in sandwiches by being thinly sliced. When cooked, they can be added to countless pasta, meat, and vegetable dishes, as well as soups, stews, and sauces.

Before working with tomatoes, prepping them only takes a couple of seconds.

First, gently wash the tomatoes under cold running water. Make sure to get off any dirt and produce stickers. Then, slice, crush, or dice the tomatoes to your liking.

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Some tomato dishes call for peeled tomatoes. To peel a tomato, cut a shallow ‘x’ in the stem end and immerse the tomato in boiling water for 30 seconds. Once cool, the skin should peel right off.

To seed a tomato, cut the tomato in half horizontally, hold the cut side down over a bowl and squeeze the halves. Most of the seeds and juice should come out on their own, but you can use a small spoon as well.

To core a tomato, just cut a circle around the stem and remove the hard center.

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Now it’s time to cook!

If you’re looking for something classic, try making your tomato sauce. All you need is garlic, crushed tomatoes, basil, parsley, and a bay leaf. Simmer uncovered for at least an hour, then serve over pasta. Tomato sauce can also be used for homemade pizza. 

Or, why not try making classic tomato soup?

You’ll need butter, garlic, crushed tomatoes, chicken stop, basil, sugar, heavy cream, and parmesan cheese. Saute the garlic with the butter in a pot, then add in the stock, tomatoes, basil, and sugar. Bring to a boil and let simmer. Next, add in the cream and parmesan cheese and simmer again. Garnish with fresh basil!

If you’d rather make something lighter, try a fresh tomato and mozzarella salad, bruschetta, gazpacho, salsa, chips, or even tomato jam.

No matter how you choose to prepare tomatoes, you can rest assured that they’ll still be chock full of amazing nutrients. Cooking tomatoes increases their heart-health benefits and cancer-fighting abilities.

Raw tomatoes, however, do contain much higher quantities of vitamin C.

Whatever you do, simply enjoy the fresh taste of this amazing fruit…or vegetable. Your body will thank you!

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