Wednesday, 19 May 2010 | Tags: ,

Tomatoes are Anna's favourite fruit. (Yes, they're technically a fruit!) They're easy to prepare, eat, and grow, and they're packed full of flavour and nutritional benefits. More about tomatoes...

The Basics

  • Tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, which is a powerful antioxidant, and has also been shown to help improve the skin’s ability to protect against harmful UV rays. The redder the tomato, the more lycopene it contains.

  • Tomatoes are available in a variety of sizes and cultivars (over 7500!), from bite-size cherry and grape tomatoes, to medium-sized plum and roma, to large, juicy beefsteaks.

  • Red, of course, is the most common colour, but there are a rainbow of varieties available, from pink, yellow, orange, purple, black, white, and striped or multi-coloured.

  • Heirloom tomatoes have recently become a popular choice. They may not be as perfectly-shaped as their more modern cultivars, but proponents claim they are much more flavourful and interesting to consume.

  • Tomatoes also range in flavour from slightly tart to sweet.

  • Commercially-produced tomatoes are often picked when they’re unripe (green), and then ripened artificially in storage, which can lead to poorer flavour overall, and a mealy texture compared to tomatoes ripened on the plant.

  • Tomatoes ripened on the vine are also available in stores and are said to have a better flavour than artificially-ripened tomatoes.

  • For the best flavour, nothing beats locally-produced tomatoes ripened on the plant itself, or your own grown in your backyard or balcony. 

  • Ripe tomatoes should be soft, heavy, and yield to the touch (not rock hard). Their surface should be slightly supple.

  • Look for the ripest, reddest tomatoes you can find, but watch for bruises and blemishes. Small, surface cracks near the bottom are ok, they won’t affect the quality. Small bruises can be cut out easily. 

  • Also, give it a sniff. If it’s ripe, it will have a good tomato-y smell.

  • Store tomatoes at room temperature away from direct sunlight to prevent uneven ripening.

  • Tomatoes with a green blush will ripen if placed on the counter, but avoid any with blotchy green or brown areas. To speed up ripening, store tomatoes in a plain, brown, paper bag with apples or pears. Both of these fruits release a natural ethylene gas that helps speed up ripening.

  • Never choose tomatoes from the refrigerated section of your grocery store, and don’t store them in your refrigerator. Cold kills the flavour!

  • Don’t stack tomatoes on top of each other as they tend to make each other mushy. Store in a single layer and use within 3 days once ripe.

San Marzano Tomatoes

  • Grown mainly in the Campania region of Italy, San Marzano tomatoes are the most famous plum tomatoes in the country.

  • They are known and preferred by gourmet chefs all over the world when it comes to making tomato sauce.

  • Just like with genuine Italian olive oil, all imported cans of true San Marzano tomatoes carry the DOP seal, which means Denominazione d’Origine Protetta or “protected designation of origin”.

    • This law protects the reputation of regional foods and eliminates unfair competition and the misleading of consumers by non-genuine, inferior quality products.

  • Available in North America in organic and specialty food stores as canned products, certified San Marzano tomatoes are not significantly more expensive than regular tomatoes at a cost of around $3 per 796 ml can.

Prep & Cooking Tips

  • Slice a tomato from stem end to bottom to hold its juice better. (Slicing crosswise allows more juice to escape.)

  • Because of their high acidity, prepare tomatoes in bowls or pans that have non-reactive surfaces, such as enamelware or stainless steel. Avoid using aluminum and other non-stainless materials, which react with the acid in the tomatoes and produce a bitter aftertaste.

  • Be especially sure to avoid using copper pots and implements as the reaction with tomatoes can be toxic.

Other Considerations

  • Tomato Paste
    • Tomato paste is a concentrate made from tomatoes with high pectin content. When they’re cooked down, they’re put through a strainer to remove skins and seeds, and reduced further until almost all of the moisture has evaporated.

    • For the occasional spoonful of paste, a 4.5 ounce tube is perfect.

    • You can refrigerate leftover tomato paste from a can only for a few days, or transfer what you don’t use to another container and store in the freezer until needed. (Don’t leave it in the can.)

    • Tomato paste can be blended into mayonnaise, sour cream, or yogurt to change flavor as well as color. Add some herbs or chopped scallion greens and use as a vegetable dip, sandwich spread, or salad dressing.

Be Aware

  • If you grow your own tomatoes or have access to tomato plants, it’s extremely important to note that tomato leaves and stems are toxic to humans and animals, including dogs and cats. Be careful with children and pets around your plants, and do not dispose of them in your regular compost.


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