Random Tomato Facts

Tomatoes were first proven to be grown by the Aztecs around 700 AD, however, cultivation by others in Mexico is thought to have occurred as early as 500 BC. Wild tomatoes originated in the Andes Mountains in what is now Peru and Bolivia. The name is thought to have originated from the Aztec word "xitomatl," which means "plump thing with a navel".

The first wild tomatoes were small (like cherry tomatoes) and yellow in color. Large red tomatoes that are familiar to most people in modern times were developed much later.

It is possible that Christopher Columbus may have brought the first tomato plants back to Europe from the new world. However, some sources state it was Hernan Cortes.

For many years after their introduction to Europe and the American colonies, tomatoes were thought to be poisonous. They were grown only as ornamentals or curiosities. This belief is thought to have stemmed from tomatoes close resemblance to the poisonous nightshade (belladonna) plant. Another theory suggest that the acid in tomatoes may have leached lead out of pewter dinnerware (which was a popular type of dinnerware for well-to-do Europeans at the time) and thus actually did cause poisoning. Still another theory suggest that an antiquated French term for tomato, pommes d'amour or "Love Apple" may have caused Puritanistic colonists in America to shun the plant for "moral reasons." At any rate, eventually the tomato overcame early prejudices and worked its way into worldwide cuisine.

Tomatoes are high in vitamins A and C and fiber, and are cholesterol free. An average size tomato (5 oz) has only about 35 calories. Tomatoes also contain large amounts of lycopene. Lycopene is part of the group of antioxidants called carotenoids which help protect the body against free radicals. Cooked tomatoes have more lycopene than fresh tomatoes per unit volume (due to concentration resulting from water removal during processing).

Worldwide tomato production is about 100 million tons on 3.7 million hectares. Tomatoes are second only to potatoes regarding largest vegetable crop yield.
The top five tomato producers are China, U.S., Turkey, Italy, and India.

The Netherlands and Belgium lead the world in fruit yield per hectare. No doubt the situation of these countries (limited farmland and high labor costs) ensures that the high crop yields make economic sense.

The U.S. has approximately 126,400 acres dedicated to tomato cultivation. That is a little less than 1/5th the size of the state of Rhode Island.

In the U.S., California leads the pack with regards to processed tomatoes (e.g. sauces, paste, ketchup, etc.) at about 11 million tons annually. Indiana and Ohio are second and third, respectively.

Regarding "fresh market" tomatoes, Florida leads the U.S. followed closely by California. Fresh market tomatoes are grown to some degree in all 50 states. This is due to the extremely poor shipping and storage characteristics of tomatoes (i.e. they need to be close to market).

75% of all American tomato consumption is in processed forms. Americans consume about 20 pounds of fresh tomatoes per capita per year.
Americans have increased tomato consumption by 30% over the past twenty years. Most of this increase is seen in processed forms. It is anticipated that per capita consumption will continue to increase due to the demographic shifts in the U.S. (tomato consumption increases with higher income and age) and with increasing knowledge about the health benefits of tomatoes (notably lycopene).

Since 2007, Americans have been consuming more salsa than ketchup (the previous most popular form of processed tomato).

93% of all American backyard gardens contain tomatoes, making it the most popular hobby vegetable.

The high acidic content of the tomato makes it easy to can and preserve. This is reasons the tomato was canned more than any other fruit or vegetable by the end of the 1800s.

The USDA lists 25,000 different types of tomatoes. Some sources state, more conservatively, that there are only 10,000 varieties.

Tomatoes should not be refrigerated. The cold decreases the flavor and quality.

Tomato Lingo: Determinate tomato plants set fruit all at the same time (good for canning or commercial harvesting). Indeterminate plants set fruit at different times (good for the home garden, and to avoid a glut of tomatoes). "Heirloom" varieties have been around for at least a generation and breed true from seed. An "open pollinated" tomato is newer than an heirloom (presumably, less than a generation) but will also breed true from seed. A "hybrid" variety will not breed true from seed, but will revert to characteristics of its ancestors.

The scientific name for tomato is lycopersicon lycopersicum whic
h roughly translates to "Wolf Peach." This name is thought to have derived from German myths that the nightshade plant (a plant related and similar looking to tomatoes) could be used to summon werewolves.

Just like the nightshade plant, tomato leaves are poisonous.

In addition to the nightshade plant, the tomato is closely related to the potato, eggplant, red pepper, and ground cherry plants.

"Tomato" in other languages: French = "tomate" Dutch = "tomaat" German = "tomate" Danish = "tomat", Spanish = "tomate" and Italian = "pomodoro". The Japanese have a unique spelling for "tomato" using there alphabet, but it is still pronounced like the English "tomato."

Campbell's tomato soup was first marketed in 1897.

19 U.S. states hold tomato festivals.

"Tomatofest" held in Carmel, California features tasting of over 350 different types of tomatoes.

Arguably the largest and most famous tomato festival is held in Valencia, Spain every August. Dubbed "La Tomatina," this festival is culminated with a tomato fight during which 30,000 or more participants hurl an estimated 150,000 overripe tomatoes at each other.

Tomato juice is the official state beverage of Ohio.

The tomato is the state vegetable of New Jersey.

The tomato is both the official state fruit and vegetable of Arkansas.

The largest tomato every grown weighed in at 7 pounds, 12 ounces (3.51kg) and the tallest tomato plant ever grown topped out at 65 feet tall (19.8 meters).

The tomato is the world's most popular fruit as measured by worldwide output in terms of mass. (yes, it is a fruit botanically speaking). The banana is number two, followed by the apples, oranges and watermelons (in that order).

Oddly enough the U.S. Supreme Court was asked to determine if a tomato was a fruit or vegetable. In Nix vs. Hedden (149 U.S.304 (1893). It seems the Tariff act of 1883 called for an import tax to be paid on imported vegetables, but not fruit. The Nix family sued New York to recover this tax (paid under protest) under the logic that a tomato is a fruit and not a vegetable. This is of course true from the botanical sense. However, the court disagreed stating unanimously that the tomato was indeed a vegetable based on the common perception and the way it which it used in the kitchen (as part of the main course and not a desert).
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