The tomato plant originated in western South America, Mexico, and Central America. The word tomato was derived from the Spanish word tomate which comes from the Nahuatl word tomatl. Nahuatl was the common language of the Aztecs who ruled Mexico between the 14th and 16th centuries before the Spanish conquest. Nearly 1.5 million Mexicans still speak the language in a variety of dialects.
The use of the tomato as a cultivated food may have originated with the indigenous peoples of Mexico. The Aztecs used tomatoes in their cooking when the Aztec Empire was conquered by the Spaniards who brought the plant to Europe as part of a widespread transfer of plants known as the Columbian exchange. The tomato plant was then introduced to parts of the colonized world.
Are tomatoes fruits or vegetables? For all intents and purposes, they classify as both. Botanically, they are fruits because they form from flowers and have seeds which can be harvested to produce more plants. However, they are culinarily regarded as vegetables. To a gardener or farmer the tomato is a fruit; to a chef, it’s a vegetable. Mature tomatoes come in red, yellow, orange, green and purple.
Tomatoes are loaded with the antioxidant lycopene which fights free radicals that can damage our cells and affect our immune system. Research links lycopene to many health benefits such as a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. Consuming foods rich in lycopene is believed to reduce the risk of having lung, stomach, or prostate cancer. Some research suggests that it may also prevent cancer in the pancreas, colon, throat, mouth, breast, and cervix.
Lycopene is also believed to help lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, and blood pressure both of which are believed to lower the risk of heart disease.
Tomatoes also provide other nutrients such as vitamins B and E, and flavonoids that may boost heart health. Potassium, an essential mineral found in tomatoes, is linked to blood pressure control and heart disease prevention. They also provide vitamin K which is important for blood clotting and bone health.
Tomatoes contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two substances that may reduce your likeliness to develop age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the U.S. These substances may also help protect your eyes form the blue light from digital devices, and prevent your eyes from feeling tired and ease headaches from eye strain.
Tomatoes are also a good source of fiber, vitamin C (28% RDI), folate/vitamin B9 which is important for normal tissue growth and cell function, and beta carotene — an antioxidant which converts to vitamin A in your body.
Tomato and Feta Tart
2 lb. tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed according to package directions
¾ c. crumbled feta
¼ small red onion, thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Preheat oven to 400° with a rack in the middle position. Arrange tomatoes on a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with salt and let sit 10 minutes; pat dry with paper towels. Lightly coat a large baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Unfold thawed puff pastry and place on prepared sheet. Prick with a fork all over, leaving a ½” border around the edges. Top with tomato slices, overlapping as necessary and avoiding the border, feta, and onions. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Brush edges with beaten egg.
Bake until golden, about 40 minutes.
Drizzle with olive oil before serving.
Serve on its own as an appetizer, or with a salad for a light lunch.