As a child, I was obsessed with tomatoes. I guess with a family involved in the fruit and vegetable trade, it was inevitable. I probably ate them every day, honestly.
As I am writing this, I am looking out at the wonders of my green fingers as plant after healthy plants await some serious picking. Primarily a sea of red, there are little niches of green, purple, yellow, nobbly, ridged ones, and tiny sweet cherry ones, all waiting for my fingertips to attack!
Thirty years ago and more, all you could buy in the UK were standard round tomatoes of average size and not on the vine, simply in big wooden crates at the market or greengrocers. No plastic six-packs praise the lord! Sadly, most small and large shops here are plastic pack boys, but what better than to find a market or farm where you can pick your own, or at worst, find a few of those age-old wooden crates, full to the brim with ‘not-too-ripe’ beauties?
Tomatoes: fruit or vegetable?
Tomatoes are labeled as a fruit, not a vegetable, and are extremely healthy to eat, let alone convenient and versatile. An incredible amount of dishes can be made using the humble tomato, from salads to sauces, juices, pastes, stews, soups, casseroles, jars of sundried (homemade), pickles, and chutneys. They work well with herbs too. You can make your own tomato juice or can it yourself. What’s not to like?
When simply eaten raw, the nutritional content is quite high, as tomatoes are low in carbs and in spite of their flavour, are approx. 95 percent water content! Keeps your hydration levels up if you eat as many as I do…Plenty of vitamins too, with Vitamin C being the way in the lead.
Varieties of tomato
Just to explain some of the many varieties of tomato there are (too many worldwide to write about), and what they are best suited for.
Probably the smallest round tomato you can widely buy (most markets, shops, etc. stock them). Come on or off the vine, not much difference in flavor due to size. Because of the amount of skin in contrast to the volume of the juice and flesh, they are the least ideal to use for sauces, even if you make them with a high-speed blender.
However, they are delicious as a lunch box snack, tossed in salads, sauteed, roasted, or blistered.
Similar to these are Grape tomatoes, same taste, and consistency, just more oval than round.
Originating in Italy (no surprise there!) these are often the tomatoes used in cans and are a plum variety. Comparable to these are San Marzano, as both are the same shape, and texture (meaty), and low in seed count. With such thin skins, they can be used for sauces, salsas, and salads, as they do not have such a high water content.
Only called by this name, due to many people using this variety to grow at home. They tend to have been cross-cultivated over the years with other varieties, so there is no real distinct flavor, and best used in cooking. Depending on where you live, these may well have a different name. They tend to come to fruition all in one go, so get prepared for canning, pickling, etc. so you can make full use of them. Alternatively, eat lots of pasta and tomato-based sauce dishes!
Just had to mention these, of course! Widely known from the film ‘Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café’, even though that’s not the basis of the story!
Green tomatoes are simply unripe tomatoes, that’s all. No special variety, they just take much longer to ripen. Use wisely, and they are delicious either fried or even better, turned into scrummy chutneys.
These are hybrid tomatoes, originally bred in Spain and rather unique in their skin color of dark, mottled, reddish-brown. Due to their uniqueness, they do come at a higher price, but if you are trying to impress guests, this variety mixed with other colors is stunning. They vary in size but tend to be on the smaller side. Best eaten raw in my experience, but can be used for most purposes. A multi-tasking tomato!
A big favorite of mine, and I use these in one of my ‘go-to’ recipes, where I stuff them with ground meat and finely chopped vegetables, herbs, and spices, bake/roast them, and serve them with crusty bread. It’s a great supper dish.
As the name may suggest, they are ‘beefy and meaty’, but with larger size comes a higher seed count. They are, without a doubt, very tasty, but when they are stuffed and baked, they take on a whole new persona. Do try them this way, and if you do, see if you can get not just red, but maybe a yellow one or two, they look really stunning in a baking dish before serving.
I just have to mention these as even though the term is a very Anglicised one, I am sure you would find a similar ‘brand’ of tomatoes in most places in the world.
These are truly, natural (or should be) tomatoes, I can’t say enough about them. Rather than ‘raised by human hand’ they are dependent on other factors for reproduction, such as wind and birdlife. They are available in a range of colors such as red, purple, yellow, orange, green, and the full spectrum. They should have a rich flavor and deserve to be in the No.1 spot on your veggie list.
Make sure that what you buy is authentic and preferably be sure of the provenance.
Happy days, tomato buddies!