Featured Super Food: The Tomato

Featuring everything you wanted to know about (mostly) local and always super, Superfoods!

don't try this at home kidsThis month…..the mighty tomato.

My favorite of all vegetables (although technically it’s the fruit part of the plant that we eat), whichever food kingdom you believe it belongs in, this super food is perfect for this time of year. Not only because they are still to be found ripening on local Ontario vines in November, but also because they help the body resist infection, fight cancer, aid in clearing toxins, and benefit the kidneys. Tomatoes can also help lower blood pressure and offer protection against acute appendicitis and digestive disorders. This is one of the most versatile of foods to cook with and now is your last chance to gather up all the local tomatoes you can, and cook them up in soups, stews, tomato sauces and chili’s to warm the body and soul. If you are feeling ambitious, you can freeze them, can them, or jar them. Or, like my father did this past fall, pull out my Grandma’s old recipe for tomato chili sauce to bring back nostalgic memories.

Key nutrients in tomatoes include potassium, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, folic acid, vitamin B6, Vitamin B3, and vitamin B5. They also have trace amounts of zinc, calcium, magnesium, sodium and iron. Well known for its cancer fighting phytochemical lycopene found in red tomatoes, when tomatoes are cooked, this phytonutrient is released and has powerful anti-cancer properties, most notably in protecting against prostate cancer. Other phytochemicals found in tomatoes include beta-carotene, curcumin, quercetin, pectin and rutin, among others.

Of course, not all tomatoes are created equal, and it is best to look for non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) or organic, local tomatoes for best nutritional value and flavour. When choosing tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, even unripe ones will have a distinct fragrance. Tomatoes that have been gassed with ethylene to ripen will never have an odor, except when they begin to rot. You can naturally ripen a tomato by putting it in a paper bag, alone, or with a banana. This will ensure a more evenly ripened tomato as opposed to letting it sit by a window sill.

Other tomato tips: A ripe tomato will keep at room temperature for 2-3 days, once ripe, you can store in the refrigerator to keep, but before serving, let it come to room temperature to maximize flavor. To slice a tomato, place it upright and slice from top to bottom-the slices will keep their juices better than from side to side.

History of tomatoes: Tomatoes are native to western South America. After the Spanish invasions, Hernan Cortes, conqueror of the Aztecs, sent the first tomato plants, a yellow variety, to Spain. It was mostly grown as an ornamental plant to adorn their gardens, and there were few positive things to say about it as food. Spain is recorded to be the first country to use tomatoes in cooking, stewing them with oil and seasoning. Italy followed suit, but elsewhere they were regarded with suspicion. This deterrence may have been from the known poisonous members of the family. In fact, the leaves of tomatoes are toxic and can result in very bad stomach aches. In other tomato news, every August in Bunol, Spain, there is a food fight festival called Tomatina, where tens of thousands of locals and tourists gather together and throw 250,000 pounds of tomatoes at each other for one hour.

Posted on Tuesday November 11, 2008 by Kerri Cooper