I n Tennessee, from June to October, local farms produce tomatoes at their best. It is the aroma of fresh, ripe tomatoes that transports me back to my childhood. I grew up in Scotland and spent summers helping my grandfather in the garden. He was an expert at growing tomatoes, and my grandmother would encourage me to eat them by sprinkling sugar on top. But why sugar? Did she think a tomato was a fruit, dessert worthy?—or is it a vegetable?
Scientifically speaking, tomatoes are fruits, but because they are usually cooked in savory dishes, they have become accepted as vegetables; in fact, in the 19th century, they were ruled to be vegetables by the U.S. Supreme Court. It might seem strange that the courts got involved with this. However, as is often the case, money was the issue. At that time, vegetables (but not fruits) were subject to a 10% import tax. Although fruit importers argued that tomatoes were indeed fruits, it was in the interest of the government to call a tomato a vegetable and collect the taxes. Thus, the tomato is now in the vegetable group. This should not affect your decision about how to prepare this versatile food. In addition to such traditions as eating tomatoes raw in salads, cooked into tomato sauce, or grilled, they can also be used to sweeten up your life.
The United States Department of Agriculture considers a medium tomato to be an ample source of potassium, iron, and phosphorus. It has only 22 calories and provides as much as 10–20% of the vitamin A and 20% of the vitamin C required per day.1 Tomatoes also contain a substance called lycopene, which acts as an antioxidant and reduces the risk of cancer.2 Choosing this food is not only good for your health, but great for your wallet—tomatoes were cited in a recent study as one of the top “vegetables” to provide the highest nutrient density per unit cost.3 This study used a Nutrient Rich Foods index based on nine nutrients to encourage and three nutrients to limit in the diet. Even processed tomato soups and juices were shown to provide a benefit. This summer, whether you crave savory or sweet, don’t be prejudiced about the tomato; accept it as a fruit and a vegetable!References: 1. https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/foodapedia 2. Drewnowski, A. “New metrics of affordable nutrition: which vegetables provide most nutrients for least cost?” Top of Form Bottom of Form J Acad Nutr Dietetics. 2013; 113(9):1182–1187. 3. Viuda-Martos, M., Sanchez-Zapata, E., Sayas-Barberá, E., Sendra, E., Pérez-Álvarez, J.A., and Fernández-López, J. “Tomato and tomato byproducts. Human health benefits of lycopene and its application to meat products: a review.” Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2014; 54(8):1032–1049.