You Say Tomato

….We say YUMMY!!! What is it about the humble tomato that makes it so revered? Is it the tangy taste? The fascinating history of the fruit, which dates back to the Spanish conquistadors? The rich, vibrant color? Or perhaps its exceptional versatility, which makes it liable to pop up in dishes from all corners of the world?

There are many varieties of tomato, from the small and sweet piccolo to the big and juicy beefsteak. While it is botanically a fruit, it is considered a vegetable for culinary purposes. This strange classification causes no end of both confusion and amusement – as the former Irish rugby superstar Brian O’Driscoll once quipped, (see here) “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad”

While #TeamTomatoJos has never encountered tomatoes in a fruit salad, we know they are consumed in many other ways:

  • Raw, cooked, pickled, or sundried as an ingredient in salads, sandwiches or antipasta
  • Cooked up into a sauce, soup, curry or stew (see our previous blog post here)
  • As standalone fruit (yes, some people eat tomatoes whole, like apples!)
  • Processed as paste, passata, puree, or ketchup
  • Juiced (bloody marys, anyone?)

Tomato Fusion - Blood Mary meets ketchup meets slice of beefsteak tomato. Delicious! 

The tomato is also loved for its many health properties. It contains high concentrations of Lycopene, a family of pigments that give fruits and vegetables their brilliant red, orange, and yellow coloring. But Lycopene isn’t just a colorant – it’s a powerful antioxidant that eliminates dangerous free radicals, which can damage DNA and other fragile cell structures. The tomato has also been shown to reduce the risk of stroke; a recent study (see here) completed by a team at the Harvard School of Public Health found that men with high amounts of lycopene in their blood were 55% less likely to have any kind of stroke, and 50% less likely to have a stroke caused by blood clots (the most common kind). The finding came as a surprise — researchers had initially focused on other antioxidants, but found that lycopene was more effective than alpha carotene, beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E in reducing the risk of stroke. 

Fun fact: did you though that people do more with tomatoes than just eat them? Ford and Heinz are collaborating on a long-term research project (see here) to determine whether sustainable composite materials made from the steely tomato and its internal fibers can be mass produced and used in vehicle manufacturing. The small Spanish town of Buñol near Valencia has found a way to turn the tomato into a huge tourism opportunity. In a longstanding tradition dating back to 1957, the town celebrates a successful tomato harvest on the last Wednesday in August by hosting La Tomatina, the largest tomato fight in the world.

#TeamTomatoJos moments before the start of LaTomatina 2014

#TeamTomatoJos wanted to see what all the fuss was about, so last month we took to the narrow streets of Buñol with thousands of other tomato pilgrims from all over the world. La Tomatina takes place on the town’s main square and the Calle del Cid, the main road. At about 9am a large greased pole with a ham attached to its end is hoisted into the air, and there's a mad scramble as people struggle against each other to pull it down.

At precisely 11am, regardless of whether someone has successfully grabbed the ham (which is rare), a cannon is fired and large trucks dump over 120 tonnes of overripe, squishy tomatoes into the streets, to the cheers of a very enthusiastic crowd. For the next one hour, everyone joins in a frenzied, cheerful, anarchic tomato battle until a second cannon fire signals the end of play. Then it's a mad dash for the closest “shower” – local citizens take no small amount of pleasure in spraying down visitors with their garden hoses!

At Tomato Jos, we know all about the versatility of the tomato. We know the value it has for our farmers, and we know how much the West African diet depends on the tomato. While La Tomatina will always hold a special place in our hearts, we want to help our farmers avoid situations where overproduction in a short period of time leads to so much wasted fruit and lost income. And as we build out our business, we hope to connect an increasing number of farmers to the market so that even more consumers can be benefit from this wonderful fruit.