West Coast, South America
Although the tomato is commonly associated with Italian food, the plant is native to the western coast of South America and was not introduced in Europe until the early 1500s when returning Spanish colonists brought it from the New World. However, North Americans believed tomatoes were poisonous until 1820, when Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson disproved that myth during a public demonstration on the courthouse steps in Salem, NJ. In France, after the poison myth was dispelled, the people came to believe the tomato was an aphrodisiac and called it "pomme d'amour," or "love apple." Today, the typical American consumes about 80 pounds of tomatoes per year, and it is one of the most common plants grown in home gardens.
Botanically, the tomato is a fruit, even though the 1883 U.S. Supreme Court decided the tomato was legally a vegetable. This court case was brought about because New Jersey importer John Nix refused to pay an import tariff on his tomatoes, arguing that technically they
After flowering, tomatoes require 50-60 days to reach fruit maturity. Although the full size of the fleshy fruit, called a berry, is attained in half that time, the later stage of maturity is marked by external color change with coinciding internal chemical changes. As the fruit changes from green to red, the acidity decreases, and both the sweetness and the vitamin A and C contents increase. The original green color is due to chlorophyll, the main photosynthetic pigment. As the chlorophyll breaks down, additional carotenoids are synthesized-lycopene, a red accessory pigment, and lesser amounts of ß-carotene, an orange accessory pigment. This change in internal and external morphology is due mainly to the presence of ethylene, a gaseous hormone discovered in 1901. Used in Hawaii to promote flowering in pineapples (Bromeliaceae) and to produce additional female flowers in some members of the Cucurbitaceae, ethylene is often associated with fruit ripening.
Tomatoes are propagated from seeds. In temperate regions, they are generally started in greenhouses, hotbeds, or cold frames and then brought outside only when the danger of frost is past. Tomatoes are available year-round, with many crops field-grown in Florida, Texas, California, and Mexico as well as in greenhouses in the North. Many tomatoes are pickedew Jersey importer John Nix refused to pay an import tariff on his tomatoes, arguing that technically they while still green and artificially ripened on their way to market, generally in the
Tomatoes are sold whole and fresh or canned and processed into soups, sauces, and ketchup. Those that are processed are mainly grown in the Midwest and the West, with the principal acreage in California. Most recently, hydroponic techniques are being used to grow tomatoes (and other crops) to full term in greenhouses. Hydroponics, originally practiced in the mid-1800s and reintroduced in 1937, grows plants in a water-based nutrient solution rather than in soil.
Genetically modified fruits and vegetables are being looked at as vehicles to deliver vaccines [for more information, see "A Needle or a Banana?"]. Along with the potato and the banana, the tomato is a potential candidate for use as one of these "edible vaccines."
References, Websites, and Further Reading
Levetin, Estelle, and Karen McMahon. 1999. Plants and society, 2d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, pp. 91-93.
Simpson, B.B., and Molly C. Ogorzaly. 2001. Economic botany: Plants in our world, 3d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies.
Related Reading in Stern, Introductory Plant Biology, 8th Edition
Chapter 5: Roots and Soils
Chapter 6: Stems
Chapter 8: Flowers, Fruits, and Seeds
Chapter 10: Plant Metabolism
Chapter 11: Growth
Chapter 14: Plant Propagation and Biotechnology
Chapter 21: Introduction to Vascular Plants: Ferns and Their Relatives
Chapter 22: Introduction to Seed Plants: Gymnosperms
Chapter 23: Flowering Plants
Chapter 24: Flowering Plants and Civilization
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