Meenakshi Kesavankutty


The mighty tomato, a fruit many think of as a vegetable, is perhaps one of the world’s most consumed fresh produce. A staple of many world cuisines, the tomato was first grown in South and Central America, and can trace its origins back to the early Aztecs, at around 700 A.D.

However, the tomato only spread to other parts of the world in the 16th Century through the Spanish colonizers who brought it to Europe. Southern European countries such as Italy and Spain took to it straightaway, although northern Europeans were initially suspicious of the bright and shiny fruit, considering it to be poisonous. In fact, wealthy Europeans that ate the fruit, nicknamed “poisoned apple” died after eating off pewter plates which were high in lead content. Tomatoes, which are highly acidic, would absorb the lead in pewter, causing deaths from lead poisoning.

Even in the early days of the 20th century, many people believed that tomatoes weren’t safe to eat. But in 1897, soup mogul Joseph Campbell made the fruit a household name when he created his famous condensed tomato soup and today global production of tomatoes exceeds 70 million metric tons a year.

China is now the largest producer of tomatoes with 50 million metric tonnes produced in 2012. India was second that year, with 17.5 million metric tonnes of tomatoes. When it comes to exports, the Netherlands ranks highest, followed by Mexico. Whether it is for basic health, detox or for skin care, tomatoes pack a powerful punch. It’s a source of not only vitamins A, C, and K, which helps build strong bones, but also folate, which is vital for growth, and potassium, a mineral that helps your muscles contract and helps balance body fluids. It is also low in sodium, cholesterol and saturated fat. The fruit helps fight against cancer.

Even processed and cooked tomatoes, in the form of sauces and ketchup, are good for you, as they have high levels of lycopene, the natural pigment that makes tomatoes red, and helps skin look young.


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