TOMATOES: THE JOURNEY FROM SEED TO PLATE
The tomato is one of the most popular and versatile fruits consumed around the world, with a rich history spanning centuries. From being used as a decoration in courtly feasts in the 16th century, to the beloved staple in many home kitchens today, tomatoes have come a long way to get to our dinner plates. In this article, we explore the journey from seed to plate and how the tomato’s popularity has grown over time.
TOMATOES IN HISTORY
Tomatoes have been a part of human history for hundreds of years. They originated in the Americas and were first domesticated in the early 1500s by the Aztecs. They quickly spread to Europe and became popular in courtly feasts where they were often served as a condiment, or as a side dish. By the 18th century, tomatoes were being cultivated in Europe, with some of the earliest recorded references to their cultivation in France, Italy and England.
Tomatoes were initially viewed with suspicion and were largely perceived as being poisonous due to their nightshade family lineage. It wasn’t until 1720 that tomatoes began to be included in traditional dishes rather than simply adding flavor to sauces.
HOW TOMATOES ARE GROWN
Tomatoes are typically grown in a variety of environments, including greenhouses and outdoor farms. The growing process varies depending on the climate and the type of tomato, but the basic steps stay the same.
The first step in growing tomatoes is planting the seeds. Tomatoes are typically planted in nutrient-rich soil, either indoors or outdoors, depending on the season and the climate. Tomatoes need plenty of sun, water and warm temperatures in order to thrive.
Once the seedlings emerge from the planting phase, the next step is to add fertilizer to the soil in order to provide the necessary nutrients for the tomatoes to grow. This is generally done with a combination of organic and chemical fertilizers, depending on the farm.
In order for tomatoes to set fruit, they must be pollinated. For greenhouses and smaller farms, this is usually done by hand. On larger farms, pollination may be done mechanically with a machine.
Watering is a key factor in successful tomato growth. Tomatoes need to be watered regularly, in a balanced way, in order to prevent the plants from drying out and encourage a plentiful harvest. The amount of water required will depend on the weather and climate, so it’s important to keep an eye on the soil moisture.
5. Pruning & Training
Pruning and training are common activities during the growing process which set the plants up for a healthy harvest. Pruning allows the plants to direct more energy towards producing fruit, while training involves using stakes, cages and trellising to give the plants greater support and encourage a higher yield.
When the growing process has reached completion, the tomatoes can be picked and sorted for sale. Depending on the variety, tomatoes may be picked by hand or mechanically. It’s important to take extra care when picking the fruit, as damage to the tomatoes can affect their flavor and shelf life.
Once the tomatoes have been picked, they’re usually sorted by ripeness and put into boxes for transport. Tomatoes that are picked too early may be left to ripen off the vine, as this can increase their taste and nutrition. Alternatively, some tomatoes can be picked to be consumed shortly after picking.
During transportation, the tomatoes must be kept at a suitable temperature, usually between 10°C and 15°C, to ensure the highest quality when they reach the consumer. When they arrive at the grocery store, the tomatoes are sorted once more and sorted by variety, size and color.
WHAT MAKES TOMATOES TASTE SO GOOD?
Tomatoes have a unique flavor and texture because of their combination of sugar and acid compounds. These compounds are found in the fleshy parts of tomatoes, as well as in their skins and seeds. The acids in tomatoes are responsible for the distinctive tartness, while the sugars give them a sweet taste.
In addition to the acids and sugars, tomatoes contain a variety of other compounds that contribute to their flavor, including phenols and carotenoids. Phenols are found mainly in the skins of tomatoes and are responsible for the bitterness that some tomatoes have. Carotenoids, meanwhile, give tomatoes their characteristic red color and also enhance their flavor.
TOMATOES ON THE DINNER PLATE
Tomatoes are incredibly versatile and are used in a variety of dishes around the world. From pizza and pasta sauces to salads, soups and stews, the tomato is an essential ingredient in a number of dishes. Tomatoes can even be cooked down into a variety of condiments, such as ketchup, salsa and tomato paste.
In addition to their countless culinary uses, tomatoes also boast a number of health benefits. They’re packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that help protect against a range of diseases. Tomatoes are believed to reduce inflammation, improve cardiovascular health and even help with weight management.
From humble beginnings to one of the world’s most beloved culinary ingredients, tomatoes have quite the journey from seed to plate. Whether fresh, canned, cooked or even raw, there are countless ways to enjoy these nutritious and tasty fruits. The next time you reach for a tomato, remember its long and winding road and give thanks for this incredible and versatile wonder of nature.