Tomato seedsBotanical name: Lycopersicon esculentum
Origins and history
Native to South America, Central America and the southernmost regions of the current USA, it was endemic to the entire belt between Mexico, Novo Mexico and Peru. Among the Aztecs it was called tomatl and its sauce was widely used in cooking. Discovered by the Europeans following the conquest of Mexico by Cortés, the tomato was considered aphrodisiac by some doctors: for this reason it was called "pomme d'amour" or "apples of love". French and English. It was introduced for the first time in Europe by Cortés: it was Sir Walter Releigh who brought the tomato to England, when he gave some plants to Queen Elizabeth. Precisely because of its nickname, the plant was given as a tribute by the nobles to their ladies or as an act of homage to a person of higher rank. Tomato cultivation spread from the second half of the seventeenth century, especially in Southern Italy, where the climatic conditions were extremely favorable. At the beginning the tomato was grown in pots as an ornamental plant for courtyards and windows, just like the potato: only later, its pharmacological and alimentary properties were discovered.
Nutritional and beneficial properties
It is only the fruit of the plant that is edible, because the green parts contain solanine and are therefore toxic. The tomato also contains this substance, however its rate is very low, especially if the specimen is red and ripe. It is a food widely used during the summer because it is very refreshing and has great nutritional and beneficial properties. Among other things, the Australian study is very recent according to which the frequent consumption of tomatoes allows to lower blood pressure and to reduce the quantity of bad cholesterol in a percentage equal to 10%: in this way many cardiovascular problems are prevented. These benefits are guaranteed by the presence in the vegetable of lycopene, an antioxidant that at the same time fights free radicals: in this way it is possible to limit the damage caused by cholesterol and cellular aging. 25 milligrams of lycopene are sufficient (equal to half a liter of juice or 50 grams of concentrated tomato) to obtain the desired effect, although it is recommended to consume fresh tomatoes. An excellent alternative is to take the substance with juice or in the form of a centrifuged. It also helps prevent prostate cancer.
Use of tomato in the kitchen
Nowadays the tomato is one of the most used ingredients in national cuisine, especially for salads or to prepare sauces, appetizers or cooked dishes, such as pasta and pizza. It has a low calorie content. Among the most popular recipes are capresi, bruschetta with cherry tomatoes, canapes with avocado and cherry tomatoes, stuffed tomatoes and bruschetta with tomato. If you opt for first courses or single courses, there is gazpacho with tomato (traditional Andalusian recipe), quinoa salad with cherry tomatoes, Tuscan panzanella with tomatoes and spicy tomato soup. Among the cold pasta there are the one topped with pesto and cherry tomatoes, the Greek one (with feta and cherry tomatoes) and the one topped with tomatoes, basil and ricotta. Tomato juice is also used for the preparation of aperitifs, such as the Bloody Mary cocktail: it is made up of vodka, salt, lemon, Tabasco and pepper. You can also have a non-alcoholic version (Virgin Mary), adding salt, pepper, Tabasco and lemon to the tomato juice.
The tomato was originally golden (it was called "golden apple") and only thanks to grafts it took on the red color. Relatively late it became an edible food: at first it was used fresh or in the form of sauce only in southern Europe, but cultivation for food purposes only spread from the end of the eighteenth century. The countries of greatest production were the Kingdom of Naples and France, however the intended use was very different: in the first case it was a food of the poor popular cuisine, while beyond the Alps it was reserved only for the king's court.