The tomato is an a-lister in the summer vegetable category. When in season, you see tomatoes sweeping across market tables in a variety of colours, shapes, and sizes. They are in all the crowd-pleasing dishes like pizza, pasta, salad, and curry. But how well do you know your tomato? Check out these 11 interesting facts that you might not know about the beloved tomato:
- The origin of tomatoes is not Italy. The small-fruited wild tomato was selectively bred for larger fruits by the Aztecs in 700 AD.
- Tomatoes were first yellow. The first varieties introduced to Europe in the 16th century were of a yellow variety. In fact, Italy named the tomato ‘Pomodoro’ which translates to Golden Apple.
- Tomatoes were poisonous in Britain. British folk thought tomatoes were too similar to the wolf peach - toxic hallucinogenic nightshade thought to be used for witchcraft - so they deemed the plant poisonous. Pewter was also a popular dishware style in Britain, however, pewter has a high lead content. Acidic food, like tomatoes, would cause lead to leach out into food and cause toxicity. This is essentially the reason why tomatoes were not eaten by the rich until the 1800s.
- There is a worm specifically named after the tomato. The Tomato Horn Worm is as green as the leaves on the tomato plant and is 3-4 inches long with a horn on its back. These worms can take over patches of tomato plants, eating all of your crops, and they can only be seen with a keen eye or a blacklight.
- The pizza was invented for a Queen. The story goes that pizza was created by one restaurateur in Naples to celebrate the visit of Queen Margarite, the first Italian monarch since Napoleon conquered Italy. The restaurateur made the pizza from three ingredients that represented the colours of the new Italian flag: red, white, and green.
- Ontario produces 98% of Canada’s tomatoes. Leamington Ontario has been considered ’The Tomato Capital of Canada’ since the 20th century (this is where the H.J. Heinz Company owned a tomato processing plant from 1908 to 2014).
- There is a speed limit to Heinz Ketchup's pour! If the ketchup pours faster than 0.028 mph, it’s deemed too watery.
- The tomato committed tax fraud! Until the late 1800s, the tomato was classified as a fruit to avoid a 10% tariff. It was changed by the Supreme Court ruling it as a vegetable - the justices admitted that botanically speaking, tomatoes were technically fruits. But in everyday life, they decided, vegetables were things "usually served at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meats ... and not, like fruits generally, as dessert" - and taxed accordingly.
- Over 40,000 people partake in the annual tomato fight. La Tomatina is a food fight festival held on the last Wednesday of August each year in the town of Buñol near to Valencia in Spain. 150,000 tomatoes and one red-stained street later, La Tomatina originated from a street brawl that continues to this day (with the exception of the 2020 cancellation for safety purposes).
- The largest tomato plant is bigger than an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The tomato plant is located at the Walt Disney Resort in Florida, USA and covers 538 square feet.
- There are more than 3,000 varieties of heirloom or heritage tomatoes in the world. Most of the tomatoes available in average grocery stores are bred to last long and travel well. There is a lot that goes into the tomatoes sold at a grocery store to get the most bang for your buck. The characteristics for consideration include sweetness, uniformity in size, consistent yield, able to withstand extreme temperatures, no change in colours and consistent ripening times. However, texture and flavour are sometimes neglected.
The tomato has come a long way from its wild ancestor but wild tomato plants still grow in the Andes to support large genetic diversity and preserve tomato biodiversity on farms. Choosing a variety of tomatoes - when you can - keeps flavour and texture alive. A good tomato tastes like it has absorbed every bit of sunshine from those long, hot summer days. It's no wonder they are the star of a dish every time they are served in August. We like to keep things simple and let the tomato speak for itself. Check out one of our favourite go-to tomato recipes here!