Sunday, June 7, 2009

Tomato: Everything You Wanted to Know and More

The tomato is an herbaceous plant in the Solanaceae (flowering plants) family. Cousins to the tomato include potatoes, chili peppers, eggplant and tobacco. Yes tobacco. Although tomato plants can be grown as a perennial, it is normally grown in gardens and farms as annuals due to temperate climates.

They can grow as high as ten feet but their stems are weak and require some type of stabilizations such as a tomato cage or tying them to a tall stick.

The tomato is native to South America with genetic evidence showing that its origins can be traced to the highlands of Peru.

The earliest traces of the tomato to North America are attributed to William Salmon (1868-1925), who was an American Politician that served in the 7th district of Tennessee as a member of the United States House of Representatives. It is said that he reported seeing them in a southern territory of the United States more commonly referred to today as South Carolina. Although no one is 100% sure how they came about in America, some scientists believe the species found originated somewhere in the Caribbean.

Tomatoes love heat and because they do states like Florida and California are top producers in the country due to their longer growing seasons.

According to the UN Food & Agriculture Organization, in 2008 the United States produced 111 tons of tomatoes, second only behind China who produced 311 tons, and ahead of 3rd place producer Turkey at 39 tons with a total world production of 125 million tons.

There are about 7500 different varieties of tomatoes grown in the world and vary in colors, sizes and shapes. In the United States, gardeners grow ones that are as small as the cherry tomato (1/2 inch in size) and as large as the beefsteak (4 inches in size).

Tomatoes are eaten throughout the world and have been shown in studies to aid in a healthier heart. They contain the bright red organic pigment called lycopene. Lycopene has been shown in studies to be a very powerful antioxidant and when you cook tomatoes it makes the lycopene even stronger, even suggesting to assist in preventing prostate cancer.

The tomato is enriched with Vitamins A & C, and anthocyanin (blue) another antioxidant thought to be a powerful fight against various diseases.

Due to the tomatoes high acidic content, they are easy to can whole, in pieces or in a sauce, because they can be preserved.

Though most people think of a tomato as a vegetable, it is a berry which is a subset of the fruit botanical term. Botanically speaking the tomato is the ovary part of the plant therefore it is a fruit. However, because of its high acidity and low sugar content, many do not think of it as a fruit because it is not as sweet as a fruit.

The heaviest tomato ever recorded was seven pounds twelve ounces. It was grown by a person named Gordon Graham from Edmond, Oklahoma. Although unconfirmed, the tomato tree growing in the experimental greenhouse in the Walt Disney World Resort, may be the largest tomato plant on record in the world.

Finally, what would a tomato article be without at least mentioning the Tomatina Festival? This is the big food fight festival held every year in Spain. Tens of thousands of people will gather in the town of Bunol every year and throw tomatoes at one another. How many tomatoes are used? It is estimated that over 100 metric tons of tomatoes are used every year at the Tomatina Festival.

About the Author
Michael is the author of the book Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person. It is a practical easy to follow book that teaches gardeners everything from composting techniques, aeration and frost conditions, to choosing the right tools and picking the right seeds. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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