Tomatoes are a versatile and popular ingredient used in culinary styles all across the world. Not only this, but they are also a delicious and highly nutritious addition to any diet. Whether you enjoy them as part of a meal or snack, tomatoes offer a wide variety of benefits that support a lifestyle dedicated to health and wellness. Let’s explore a few different ways to incorporate tomatoes into healthy meals and the best types of tomatoes suited to each.
What Are Tomatoes?
Tomatoes are an edible fruit native to Central and South America. First used by the Aztecs and other indigenous groups in Mexico, tomatoes became popular in Europe by the 16th century after the Spanish brought them back across the Atlantic. Today, they are among the most widely cultivated vegetables worldwide and most commonly associated with Mexican and Italian cuisines.
The tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) is part of the nightshade family, which includes potatoes, eggplants, and peppers. This perennial plant takes two forms: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate tomato plants tend to be smaller and more compact, growing in a bush-like pattern. They are well-suited to growing in containers, and the fruits ripen early and all at once. Meanwhile, indeterminate varieties grow in a vining shape, requiring stakes and trellises, as they can grow up to ten feet in length. Indeterminate tomatoes will produce fruit all season until the frost kills them.
People commonly ask whether tomatoes are a fruit or a vegetable. It depends on who you ask, but the short answer is yes to both. In scientific terms, tomatoes are fruits because they develop from ripened flower ovaries and contain seeds. In culinary terms, however, tomatoes are used as a vegetable because they contain more acid and umami flavor than fructose.
Tomatoes offer a range of nutrients that can contribute to your overall health. They’re packed with vitamins C and K, as well as potassium and folate (vitamin B9). They also contain lycopene, beta carotene (a precursor to vitamin A), and chlorogenic acid – antioxidants linked with reducing cancer risk. Additionally, tomatoes are naturally high in water, electrolytes, and fiber but low in calories and fat – a healthy alternative for snacks and side dishes.
6 Ways to Use Tomatoes
Tomatoes come in many shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors—from small cherry tomatoes to large beefsteak varieties. There is no wrong way to eat them, but some types are better suited to specific uses. Now that we know what they are and why they’re good for us, let’s dive into some specific ways we can use them!
Beefsteak tomato varieties like Pink Brandywine and Cherokee Purple are meaty, juicy, and gigantic – perfect for slicing! Sliced tomatoes are commonly used as a topping on burgers, sandwiches, or wraps. They are also delicious on their own as an energizing snack. Pair the slices with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mozzarella, herbs, and spices for an added flavor boost. If possible, grow your own tomatoes and cut the fruit straight off the vine for optimal sweetness and flavor.
In addition to slicing, some larger tomato varieties are best when cut into quarters and tossed in a garden salad. Try a purple tomato variety like the Ukrainian Black Krim or a medium-sized heirloom like the striped maroon Chocolate Stripes. These unusual tomatoes offer a delicate flavor and eye-catching pop of color. Alternatively, skip the chopping entirely, and load up your salads with cherry tomato varieties like the firm-textured Black Pearl or the sweet and stark-white Italian Ice.
Sauce (or paste) tomato varieties like San Marzanos and Romas are rich in flavor and somewhat smaller in size. They have thick skins and small seeds, which make them ideal for cooking down into a sauce. Sauce tomatoes are commonly used in Italian cuisine to make pasta and pizza sauces. You’ll also find them in Indian cuisine and other recipes that use them as a base for aromatic sauces, stews, and soups. Try roasting the tomatoes to enhance their flavor and depth before puréeing them into a paste.
Did you grow up in the South eating crispy, sweet, fried green tomatoes? Even if not, there is still time to learn how to make this Southern delicacy. All tomatoes are green when unripe, but some varieties, like the Green Zebra and Aunt Ruby’s German Green, are still green even when ripe. For a crowd-pleasing appetizer or side dish, slice these guys up, coat them in batter, and fry them until they are crunchy on the outside. To keep it healthy, opt for olive oil instead of butter when frying your tomatoes—it will bring out their natural sweetness without as many saturated fats or calories!
Dried tomatoes make a great addition to sauces, pasta dishes, hummus, salads, pizzas – you name it! They have a tangy kick that will add umami to any dish. Plus, drying is a great way to preserve and store your tomatoes if harvest season has you drowning in the fruit. For drying tomato varieties, you can’t go wrong with heirlooms like Blue Beauty and Golden Queen.
Canning is another fantastic way to preserve tomatoes if you have too many on hand. It’s always convenient to have some canned tomatoes on hand for making sauces, soups, stews, and chili. Canning your own tomatoes at home is easy if you have the right equipment and varieties. Paste tomatoes like Speckled Roman and Amish Paste are excellent choices for your canning endeavors!
No matter what type you choose, all tomatoes offer a wealth of nutritional benefits that help you stay healthy while still enjoying delicious meals. Whether you prefer slicing them up fresh, turning them into sauce, frying them, or drying and canning them for later use, there is no wrong way to enjoy them! With varieties of so many different shapes, sizes, colors and flavors available, it can be fun experimenting with them in various recipes. So get creative with your health-conscious cooking and include more tomatoes in your meals – your taste buds won’t be disappointed!