This is the best time of year for tomato-lovers. The fruit is available in abundance at farmers markets and in CSA baskets, and there’s a wealth of types to choose from: beefsteak and plum, cherry and grape, not to mention the explosion of heirloom varieties — green, yellow, burgundy, black, striped and ridged, oval and oblong, heart- or pear-shaped.
Tomatoes belong to the nightshade family as do potatoes, eggplant, and sweet and hot peppers. Treated as a vegetable for cooking purposes, they’re actually a fruit that originated in Mexico and spread to other parts of the world after Spain colonized the Americas.
Whether you eat them immediately, or can them for later use (try wellpreserved.ca for tips on preserving and preparing), there are lots of good reasons to stock up on delicious, super-healthy local tomatoes.
- Flavour, flavour, flavour. Nothing compares with the taste of freshly picked tomatoes, as anyone who’s eaten store-bought varieties can attest. Most supermarket tomatoes are picked green and ripen in storage with the help of a hydrocarbon gas called ethylene. The fruit lasts longer but tends to be flavourless, with a mealy texture.
- Tomatoes are an extremely versatile ingredient, widely used in Mediterranean, Mexican, Indian and other cuisines. Add them raw to sandwiches, salads and salsas; make tomato butters, preserves and chutneys; cook them with herbs to make pasta sauce and tomato paste; or simmer them in casseroles and stews.
- When you buy tomatoes from a local farmer, you’re getting a more ethically produced fruit. Industrial tomato production has a dismal track record on workers’ rights: crops are typically harvested by migrant workers, some of whom live and work in conditions that have been described as modern-day slavery.
- Tomatoes are good for you – low in sodium, for example, and very low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
- They’re a very good source of vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, and K, along with potassium, manganese and dietary fibre. They’re also a good source of vitamin E, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, phospohorus and copper.
- They’re high in carotenoid lycopene, an antioxidant that helps reduce the risk of heart disease by supporting the cardiovascular system and regulating fats in the bloodstream. (By the way, red cherry tomatoes have up to 12 times more lycopene than red beefsteak tomatoes.)
- Tomatoes are loaded with other antioxidants that play a part in protecting the bones and kidneys, some studies show.
- The tomato’s antioxidant profile and anti-inflammatory properties provide anti-cancer benefits.
- Some studies have linked diets that include tomatoes with lower risk of Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases.
- Fresh tomatoes are higher in vitamin C, but processed (i.e., thermally processed as part of canning) tomatoes have higher levels of bio-available lycopene as well as total antioxidant strength.
Do you preserve the season’s fresh tomatoes? Why and how?