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 Corkscrew  Share this article     Summary of Not Just Wine column  
  Not Just Wine Issue 16, February 2004   
TomatoTomato Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 15, January 2004 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 17, March 2004


The famous vegetable original from South America is now an indispensable ingredient of the cooking of every country where it is known and it is a concentrated of good health


The Plant

 Tomato is a horticultural plant belonging to the family of Solanaceae (Solanum Lycopersicum). In Italy the name tomato is found for the first time in the famous “Herbarius” written by Pietro Mattioli. The etymology of the Italian name, pomodoro, comes from Latin pomum aureus (golden apple or fruit). In other languages, such as English, the term tomato is to be associated to the etymology of the Aztec version Xitotomate or Nahuatl Tomatl (Mexican origin).


 The plant can sometimes reach the height of two meters (6.5 feet) and because of the lack of a robust trunk it needs proper supports. The leaves are pretty long with a deeply carved side and its tap-root is made of many side roots. Flowers are in form of bunches and are present in all trunk long and in the branches. The plant is extremely adaptable, as it is spread in almost every part of the planet, however it prefers pretty compact soils, well drained, fresh and deep, a minimal germinative temperature of 12-13°C (53-55° F) and a temperature of 22-25°C (71-77° F) in order to develop and bear fruits. Tomato does not stand to drought, it needs plenty of water and in times of lacking of water it must be provided artificially. Tomato's fruits are called tomatoes, they are green or red colored berries of different sizes and shapes according to the variety; the pulp, having a sweet and sour taste, is rich in vitamins.

 The most common varieties are, for ribbed tomatoes: Marmande, Pantano, Samar, Saint Peter and Costoluto Fiorentino; for round smooths: Montecarlo, Money Maker, Sunrise and Ace; for stretched tomatoes: San Marzano, Napoli VF, Maremma and Romarzano. The main enemies of tomato are potato-beetle, which damages the roots of the plant, and aphids, which affect the tissues and deform leaves. Tomato has a worldwide production of more than fifty millions of tons. The main producers are United States of America, Russia, Italy, China and Turkey.


Origins and History of Tomato

 The origin of the plant seems to be from South America, in particular Chile and Ecuador, where it lives as a wild plant because of the tropical climate and can bear fruits all year long, whereas in European regions, when cultivated outside, has a seasonal cycle limited to summertime. From here it spread in Central America and it was introduced in Europe by Spaniards in the sixteenth century. The cultivation of the tomato plant was already common before Columbus and it was used as an ornamental plant. Likewise we use flowers today, the plants that we now see in kitchen gardens were cultivated in gardens. The choice was not conditioned by its aspect: tomato was considered as a poisonous plant because of the high content of solanine, a substance considered at those times poisonous for humans, therefore it was not used for cooking. In 1544 the Italian herbalist Pietro Mattioli classified the plant of tomato among the poisonous species.

 It is not clear in which place and in what time tomato, considered as an ornamental and poisonous plant and mentioned in many popular legends, suddenly became for Europeans an edible plant. It should be noticed that neither inhabitants of South America used to eat the fruits of the plant. Even Europeans knew tomato as an ornamental plant and this was the use they made of it in the first years. In France it was common for men to give a little plant of tomato to women as a sign of love. From Europe, or perhaps more precisely from Spain, the tomato plant arrived in Morocco, therefore finding an ideal climate, and from there it spread all over the Mediterranean area.

 The use of the fruit as an edible vegetable seems to originate in the 1500's: Mattioli himself cited he heard in some Italian regions the fruit was consumed fried in oil. In southern Europe, as well as in Bohemia and England, from the seventeenth century on it begins to be consumed fresh and for the preparation of sauces. In northern Europe tomato, as a food, had many difficulties, maybe because of the presence of other wild plants that with their high contents of alkaloids were not suited for nutritional purposes.

 In 1820, with the purpose of denying the famous saying, Robert Gibbon Johnson ate a tomato in front of an astounded crowd therefore denying the strong conviction tomato was a poisonous plant. The spreading of tomato as a food was not stopped, it was further spread and Livingstone defined the principles of the selection of the tomato varieties. Among the people who greatly contributed to the spreading and the appreciation of this food is to be mentioned Lazzaro Spallanzani, who was the first one, in 1762, to discover that a meat extract boiled and kept in a sealed container did not get altered.

 In 1773, in Vincenzo Corrado's book “il cuoco galante” (the gallant cook) was read: «to serve tomatoes it is needed to roll them in live charcoal or, for a short time, to dip them in boiling water and to remove the skin. Then seeds are to be removed either by cutting them in halves or by digging a hole». In 1809 Nicolas Appert, a French cook, published a book entitled “L'art de conserver les substances alimentaires d'origine animale et végétale pour plusieurs années” (the art of keeping food substances of animal and vegetal origin for many years). Whereas in France tomato was mainly consumed in the royal court, in Italy it rapidly spread in the cooking of the common people.

Tomatoes: precious fruits of nature,
princes of cooking
Tomatoes: precious fruits of nature, princes of cooking

 One year later, in 1810, the English Peter Durand patented the can of tin which was subsequently used both by Bryan Donkin and the American Woodhull Crosby who in 1847 commercialized the first cans of tomatoes. In the meantime in Italy, in 1839, Ippolito Cavalcanti in his book “Cucina teorico - pratica” (theoretical and practical cooking), describes the tomato sauce as the ideal condiment for durum wheat pasta. The industrial production of tomatoes was probably started by the Piedmontese Francesco Cirio around the end of the nineteenth century. From this moment on begins the production of derivatives. In 1888 chevalier Brandino Vignali started the industrial production of tomato extract. Almost at the same time in the province of Salerno (Italy) is being studied and developed a technique for the production of peeled tomatoes, a technique used with the stretched shaped tomatoes cultivated at the feet of Vesuvius. Almost a dominant ingredient in the Neapolitan cooking, very common in the Italian cooking and in every part of the world because of its qualities, its organoleptic qualities have however delayed its consumption as an edible vegetable. It certainly was genial to add tomato sauce to pizza, therefore making and still making happy the palates of the lovers of this traditional food of the Neapolitan cooking.

 In the American continent, both in the South, homeland of tomato, and in the North, the spreading of the plant as a food met lots of difficulties. It seems that some rivals of Abraham Lincoln convinced the cook of the White House to use tomato for the making of some foods in order to poison him. Of course the plot was revealed and therefore contributing to the spreading of tomato, it cleared every doubt about the poisonous effects of the vegetable and Lincoln became an enthusiastic consumer.

 There also are extravagant beliefs and legends about the properties of tomato. In the 1500's and in the 1600's tomato was believed to have aphrodisiac and exciting effects, for this reason was used in magic potions by the alchemists of that time. This also explains the reason of the names tomato had in the past in the many languages: in English “love apple”, in French “pomme d'amour”, in German “Libesapfel”, in Italian “pomo d'oro”, definitions which are connected to love. With the exception of Italian, the old names have been replaced and derived by the Aztec “tomatl”. However the origin of this name was because of a mistake, that is a misunderstanding, in fact the plant imported by Spaniards in Europe was called by Aztec “xitomatl”, whose meaning is “big tomatl”. Tomatl was another plant, similar to tomato but smaller and with yellow-green colored fruits. This plant, today known as tomatillo, is still used in the traditional cooking of Central America. Spaniards used to call both plants tomate and this was the cause of the mistake.



 Tomato is a concentrated of good health: it has refreshing properties, aperitifs, astringent, quenching, diuretics and digestive, in particular for starches. Tomato is rich in nutritional elements: vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K and vitamin PP, as well as phosphor, iron, calcium, boron, potassium, manganese, magnesium, iodine, copper, zinc, sodium, sulfur, citric acid, malic acid, sugar, biotin, niacin, folic acid and provitamin A.

 Tomato is also rich in carotenoids, powerful antioxidants capable of catching free radicals and therefore protecting cells. Tomatoes are very suited for the ones who practice sports because of their high content in potassium useful for the prevention muscular cramps. 100 grams of fresh tomato contains about 93% of water, 3% of carbohydrates, 0.2% of fats, 1% of proteins and 1.8% of fibers. The energetic contribution is of 100 Kj (about 20 Kcal). It is important to notice that fats and proteins are found in seeds, that is the part which is not generally used for human nutrition. It is suited for the ones who undergo a weight loss diet because of its low contents in calories. Despite the fact tomato has many properties, it is not recommended to anyone, in particular to those persons who have problems of foods intolerance or allergies. The histamine contained in the fruit is one of the main substances responsible for allergies. Green tomatoes contain solanine, a toxic and irritating substance which can also cause headaches.

 Thanks to malic acid, arabic acid and lactic acid, tomato promotes digestion. Minced tomato leaves spread on the skin can be used as a remedy for insects bites. This property is probably because of alpha-tomatine, exclusively contained in the green part of the plant, an alkaloid having antibiotics, insecticide, insectifuge, fungicide and antibacterial qualities. It seems to be a good remedy for inappetence, high azotemia, atherosclerosis and for many stomach and bowel diseases. All these nutritional properties are referred to raw tomato, fresh and ripe. It seems some English scientists are experimenting on the genetic modification of tomato by adding the gene of a petunia, a herbaceous plant of tropical America and belonging to the Solanaceae, in order to enrich the fruit of flavonoids, beneficial substances for the heart and for the prevention of cancer.


More Information About Tomatoes

 Tomato is generally used in cooking as a vegetable, however in some parts of the world it is considered as a fruit just like apples, pears and bananas. The varieties of tomato for salads are usually round shaped and can be smooth or ribbed. To the classical varieties are more and more preferred hybrids because they can produce higher yields both in terms of size and of development, a better productive stability and a better resistance to diseases.

 Tomatoes to be used for sauces have a red-green color according to their ripeness, the consistency of the pulp must be good. The size is generally pretty big for the majority of varieties, with the exception of “cherry tomatoes”. The pulp must be thick and compact, not sour. The tomato is commercialized all year long and tomatoes for salads can be kept up to ten days at a temperature of 1-2°C (34-36° F) and a relative humidity of 85-90%. Whereas in varieties for sauces the skin has an intense red color, the pulp is pink colored, good consistency and a not sour taste. At a temperature of 1 or 2° C and a relative humidity of 85-90% they too can be kept for about ten days.

 The “pomodoro di Pachino” (tomato from Pachino) is the first IGP tomato (Indicazione Geografica Protetta, Protected Geographic Indication). Consumers can recognize this product thanks to the logo depicting Sicily with a circle in the eastern part, where the production area is located, inside a green colored rhombus with rounded corners. The first cultivations are dated back to 1925 along the coastal area of Sicily, irrigated with water from aquiferous wells. The particular area is characterized by pretty high temperatures, a high irradiation of sun rays, from the vicinity of the sea which mitigates the climate and prevents spring night frosts. All these factors, including the particular water used for irrigation, make “pomodoro di Pachino” a unique product, having particular organoleptic qualities. Producers must record their estates in a proper register which is submitted every year to the control department in order to ensure the origin of the product. Even structures used for the packing of the product must undergo specific controls and must be recorded in specific registers.

 Fresh tomatoes can be generally kept in the refrigerator for three or four days, however they can also be frozen - minced or in form of sauce - and kept in the refrigerator up to nine months. Before cooking tomatoes it is better to remove seeds and to peel them by submerging for thirty seconds in boiling water.


 Corkscrew  Share this article     Summary of Not Just Wine column  
  Not Just Wine Issue 16, February 2004   
TomatoTomato Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 15, January 2004 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 17, March 2004

Wine Parade


The best 15 wines according to DiWineTaste's readers. To express your best three wines send us an E-mail or fill in the form available at our WEB site.

Rank Wine, Producer
1 Alto Adige Gewürztraminer Kolbenhof 2002, Hofstätter (Italy)
2 Franciacorta Cuvée Annamaria Clementi 1996, Ca' del Bosco (Italy)
3 Margaux 2000, Ségla (France)
4 Fumé Blanc Napa Valley 2001, Grgich Hills (USA)
5 Syrah Winemaker's Lot Vic 3, Concha y Toro (Chile)
6 Masseto 1998, Tenuta dell'Ornellaia (Italy)
7 Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto Superiore “Prova d'Autore” 2001, Bonfiglio (Italy)
8 Barolo Brunate 1999, Enzo Boglietti (Italy)
9 Turriga 1998, Argiolas (Italy)
10 Capo di Stato 1998, Conte Loredan Gasparin (Italy)
11 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Capitel Monte Olmi 1999, Tedeschi (Italy)
12 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve Marlborough 2002, Kaituna Hills (New Zealand)
13 Anjou 2001, Domaine de Montgilet (France)
14 Rioja Reserva Era Costana 1999, Bodegas Ondarre (Spain)
15 Barolo Cicala 1999, Poderi Aldo Conterno (Italy)

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  Not Just Wine Issue 16, February 2004   
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