History of the Tomato
The history of the tomato can be traced all the way back to around
700 A.D. to the time of the early Aztecs. It is thought to be native of
the Americas, although it was not until the 16th century that the
Europeans discovered the fruit through the early explorers that sailed
away to find new lands. All through Southern Europe, the versatile
tomato became a part of many dishes. However, there was resistance to it
in Northern Europe. For instance, the British thought the tomato was
pretty but also believed it was poisonous because it looked a bit like
the wolf peach.
The majority of the Europeans believed in the
poisonous nature of the tomato due the method of making plates and
eating utensils during the 1500s. Wealthy families in this time period
used eating utensils made from pewter. This metal is known for its high
content of lead. When used to eat foods containing a high acidic rate,
such as tomatoes, the lead bled out into the food. This often resulted
in poisoning and even death caused by the overdose of lead. Therefore,
the wealthy people of this era fully believed that the tomato was
On the other hand, poor people did not have the privilege of eating
from pewter plates and flatware. They could only afford wood. So when
they ate tomatoes, the problem of lead poisoning did not occur. As they
never had any issues with getting sick or dying from eating tomatoes,
they had no aversion to them. This is why only poor people ate tomatoes
up until the 1800s. The Italians were especially fond of them.
During the 1800s, there was the mass immigration of Europeans to
America. Thus began the cultural blending. Since many Italian-Americans
enjoyed tomatoes, they brought their own recipes with them. This led to
the invention of one of the most loved and popular dishes even today:
the pizza. Pizza was invented during the late 1800s in Naples and there
can be no pizza without the signature tomato sauce.
The invention of the pizza has a rather interesting story to it. It
is said that a restaurant owner in Naples wanted something special to
celebrate and honor Queen Margarite’s visit. She was the first Italian
monarch to rule since Italy had been conquered by Napoleon. This
restaurant owner created the pizza using 3 ingredients that would
represent the new Italian flag colors. These colors were red, white and
green. The tomato sauce served as the red, mozzarella cheese represented
the white, and a topping of basil was the green. Named Pizza Margarite,
it remains the model for pizza even today. What could have boosted the
popularity of tomatoes more than pizza?
It was not until right before
The Civil War Period that the tomato was actually considered to be a
kitchen vegetable. But once it caught on, tomatoes became an item
everyone in the world kept in their kitchens. While each section of the
world has its individual history with the tomato and how to use it, it
seems that the Americans have been impacted the most in finding ways of
eating them. Each year, Americans enjoy more than 12 million tons of
One of the biggest ongoing debates regarding the tomato is trying to
figure out which food group to place it in. Some feel that the tomato is
a vegetable while others are just as sure that it is a fruit. It seems
to depend on which group of people you ask as to what your answer will
be. A fruit is defined as the edible part from a mature flowering plant.
Fruit is typically eaten raw. As there are many types of tomatoes, you
will find some that taste as sweet as apples, while others will be more
in line with peppers or cucumbers, which are known as vegetables.
Botanists believe that any fleshy material covering a seed or seeds
classifies a fruit. Horticulturists hold that a tomato is a vegetable.
The tomato was said to be a fruit until late in the 1800s so it could
avoid being taxed. However, a ruling by the Supreme Court changed it to
a vegetable so that taxes could be collected from it.
When you consider the interesting history of the tomato along with
its delicious taste, whether it is a fruit of a vegetable is really not
so important after all.