Tomato Teaching Points
What’s in a Name?
Did you know that the tomato is a berry? It is in the nightshade family, which
includes potatoes, eggplants and peppers.
The word “tomato” is derived from the Nahuati (Aztec language) word, tomatl,
meaning “something round and plump.”
Varieties of tomatoes are commonly divided into these categories, based on
shape, use and size(small to large):
Cherry: sweet tomatoes, usually eaten whole in salads
Plum: pear-shaped, more meaty, ideal for tomato products, also called
Italian or Roma
Slicing: round or globe-shaped, used mainly for commerce and
Beefsteak: round, juicy, used mainly for sandwiches
There is also a yellow/orange tomato. It is sweeter than the red or green tomato
and contains more vitamin C and potassium, but no lycopene. Lycopene is
found in red tomatoes and many other red fruits and vegetables.
Eat Your Colors
Tomatoes can be red, yellow/orange or green.
Those fruits and vegetables in the red color group help maintain heart health,
memory function, and urinary tract health. Can you name some examples of red
fruits or vegetables? Red tomatoes, red apples, pink grapefruit, beets, red
peppers, red onions and radishes.
Just the Facts
There are more than 4,000 varieties of tomatoes ranging in size, shape and
Botanically, the tomato is a fruit. If it has seeds, it is a fruit. However, in 1893,
the U.S. Supreme Court declared it as a vegetable.
Tomatoes are grown in every state in the United States except Alaska.
Some other names for tomato include;
Mala insane (unwholesome fruit, Spanish)
Pomi d’oro (golden apple, Italian)
Poma amoris (love apple, Italian)
Pomme d’amour (The Apple of Love, French)
The Apple of Paradise (German)
Devil Apple (English)
Moor’s Apple (English
California grows 95 percent of the nation’s tomatoes for processing. Processed
tomato products include: ketchup, canned tomatoes, salsa, tomato sauce, tomato
soup and tomato paste.
Lycopene – an antioxidant that may decrease the risk of certain cancers and
heart disease. When processed, tomatoes contain higher amounts of
lycopene than raw tomatoes.
Vitamin A – a fat-soluble vitamin that helps support vision health, promotes
the growth and health of cells and tissues within the body,
and may help protect against infections by keeping the skin and certain body
tissues healthy. When processed, the vitamin A content in tomatoes slightly
Vitamin C – also known as ascorbic acid, this water-soluble vitamin helps
produce collagen, keeps capillary walls and blood vessels strong, helps the
body absorb iron from plant food sources, helps keep gums healthy, and
helps keep the body’s immune system healthy. Processing destroys some of
the vitamin C content.
A Slice of Tomato History
The first tomatoes can be traced back to the Andes in Peru, where they grew wild
as cherry-sized berries. On what continent can Peru be found? (South
America) Let’s look at a map.
In the mid 1500’s, Spanish conquistadors carried tomato seeds back to Europe
where they were embraced in Italy, Spain and Portugal.
In 17th and 18th century England, tomatoes were believed to be poisonous.
Thomas Jefferson was one of the first Americans to grow tomatoes at his Virginia
home as early as 1781. What was Thomas Jefferson’s home called?
(Monticello) Thomas Jefferson was our 3rd president.
In the 1893 U.S. Supreme court case of ‘Nix vs Hedden,” the tomato was
declared a vegetable along with cucumbers, squashes, beans and peas. This
came about as a result of tariff laws in 1887, which imposed a duty on vegetables
but not fruits.
How Do Tomatoes Grow?
The tomato is a warm weather perennial plant, sensitive to frost at any stage of
growth. In the Central Valley, 100 percent of all tomatoes are grown using
bushes, while most Southern California costal counties practice the pole method.
Bush harvested tomatoes do not need support. Pole-harvested need a stake to
stand up tall.
Tomatoes grown for the fresh market are hand harvested at mature green fruit
Home Grown Facts
California is the nation’s tomato capital. Ninety five percent of processing
tomatoes and about 75 percent of all tomatoes are grown in California.
Tomatoes are grown throughout the state, but about 90 percent of California
grown tomatoes are harvested in nine counties.
In California, Tulare is one of the largest fresh-market tomato producing counties.
This material was funded by USDA’s Food Stamp Program through the California Department of Public Health’s Network for a
Healthy California. These institutions are equal opportunity providers and employers. The Food Stamp Program provides nutrition
assistance to people with low income. It can help buy nutritious foods for a better diet. For information on the Food Stamp Program
in Tulare County, call 1-800-834-7121. This material was created and approved as an extension to the Harvest of the Month tool kit
developed by the Network for a Healthy California.