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The tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) is a plant in the Solanaceae or nightshade family, as are its close cousins tobacco, chili peppers, potato, and eggplant. The tomato is native to Central, South, and southern North America from Mexico to Peru. It is a perennial, often grown outdoors in temperate climates as an annual, typically reaching to 1–3 m (3 to 10 ft) in height, with a weak, woody stem that often vines over other plants.
The leaves are 10–25 cm long, pinnate, with 5–9 leaflets, each leaflet up to 8 cm long, with a serrated margin; both the stem and leaves are densely glandular-hairy. The flowers are 1–2 cm across, yellow, with five pointed lobes on the corolla; they are borne in a cyme of 3–12 together. The word tomato derives from a word in the Nahuatl language, tomatl. The specific name, lycopersicum, means "wolf-peach" (compare the related species S. lycocarpum, whose scientific name means "wolf-fruit", common name "wolf-apple").
Additional recommended knowledge
History and distribution
According to Andrew F Smith's The Tomato in America, the tomato probably originated in the highlands of the west coast of South America. Smith notes there is no evidence the tomato was cultivated or even eaten before the Spanish arrived. Other researchers, however, have pointed out that this is not conclusive, as many other fruits in continuous cultivation in Peru are not present in the very limited historical record. Much horticultural knowledge was lost after the arrival of Europeans.
There is a competing hypothesis that says the tomato, like the word "tomato", originated in Mexico, where one of the two apparently oldest "wild" types grows. It is entirely possible that domestication even arose in both regions independently.
In any case, by some means the tomato migrated to Central America. Maya and other peoples in the region used the fruit in their cooking, and it was being cultivated in southern Mexico and probably other areas, by the 16th century. It is thought that the Pueblo people believed those who witnessed the ingestion of tomato seeds were blessed with powers of divination. The large, lumpy tomato, a mutation from a smoother, smaller fruit, originated and was encouraged in Central America. Smith states this variant is the direct ancestor of some modern cultivated tomatoes.
Two modern tomato cultivar groups, one represented by the Matt's Wild Cherry tomato, the other by currant tomatoes, both originate by recent domestication of the wild tomato plants apparently native to eastern Mexico.
After the Spanish colonization of the Americas, the Spanish distributed the tomato throughout their colonies in the Caribbean. They also took it to the Philippines, whence it moved to southeast Asia and then the entire Asian continent. The Spanish also brought the tomato to Europe. It grew easily in Mediterranean climates, and cultivation began in the 1540s. It was probably eaten shortly after it was introduced, though it was certainly being used as food by the early 1600s in Spain. The earliest discovered cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692, though the author had apparently obtained these recipes from Spanish sources.
Tomatoes in Britain
The tomato plant was not grown in England until the 1590s, according to Smith. One of the earliest cultivators was John Gerard, a barber-surgeon. Gerard's Herbal, published in 1597 and largely plagiarized from continental sources, is also one of the earliest discussions of the tomato in England. Gerard knew that the tomato was eaten in both Spain and Italy. Nonetheless, he believed that it was poisonous (tomato leaves and stems contain poisonous glycoalkaloids, but the fruit is safe). Gerard's views were influential, and the tomato was considered unfit for eating (though not necessarily poisonous) for many years in Britain and its North American colonies. By the mid-1700s, however, tomatoes were widely eaten in Britain; and before the end of that century, the Encyclopædia Britannica stated that the tomato was "in daily use" in soups, broths, and as a garnish. In Victorian times, cultivation reached an industrial scale in glasshouses, most famously in Worthing. Pressure for housing land in the 1930s to 1960s saw the industry move west to Littlehampton, and to the market gardens south of Chichester. The British tomato industry has been decimated over the past fifteen years or so as cheap imports from Spain have flooded the supermarkets.
The earliest reference to tomatoes being grown in British North America is from 1710, when herbalist William Salmon reported seeing them in what is today South Carolina. They may have been introduced from the Caribbean. By the mid-18th century, they were cultivated on some Carolina plantations, and probably in other parts of the South as well. It is possible that some people continued to think tomatoes were poisonous at this time; and in general, they were grown more as ornamental plants than as food. Cultured people like Thomas Jefferson, who ate tomatoes in Paris and sent some seeds home, knew the tomato was edible, but many of the less well-educated did not.
Tomatoes in France
The tomato was introduced to France through Provence from Italy during the late 18th century and became a culinary symbol of the French Revolution due to its red color. They are widely eaten in French cuisine.
125 million tonnes of tomatoes were produced in the world in 2005, with China, the largest producer, accounting for about one-fourth of the global output followed by United States and Turkey.
According to FAOSTAT, the top producers of tomatoes (in tonnes) in 2005 were:
Cultivation and uses
The tomato is now grown worldwide for its edible fruits, with thousands of cultivars having been selected with varying fruit types, and for optimum growth in differing growing conditions. Cultivated tomatoes vary in size from cherry tomatoes, about the same 1–2 cm size as the wild tomato, up to beefsteak tomatoes 10 cm or more in diameter. The most widely grown commercial tomatoes tend to be in the 5–6 cm diameter range. Most cultivars produce red fruit; but a number of cultivars with yellow, orange, pink, purple, green, or white fruit are also available. Multicolored and striped fruit can also be quite striking. Tomatoes grown for canning are often elongated, 7–9 cm long and 4–5 cm diameter; they are known as plum tomatoes.
Tomatoes are one of the most common garden fruits in the United States and, along with zucchini, have a reputation for outproducing the needs of the grower.
As in most sectors of agriculture, there is increasing demand in developed countries for organic tomatoes, as well as heirloom tomatoes, to make up for flavor and texture faults in commercial tomatoes. Quite a few seed merchants and banks provide a large selection of heirloom seeds. Tomato seeds are occasionally organically produced as well, but only a small percentage of organic crop area is grown with organic seed.
For information on growing tomatoes, please see the relevant chapter in A Wikimanual of Gardening, and/or WikiHow: to Grow a Tomato Plant.
There are a great many tomato cultivars grown for various purposes. Heirloom cultivars are becoming increasingly popular, particularly among home gardeners and organic producers, since they tend to produce more interesting and flavorful crops at the possible cost of some disease resistance. Hybrid plants remain common, since they tend to be heavier producers and sometimes combine unusual characteristics of heirloom tomatoes with the ruggedness of conventional commercial tomatoes.
Tomato cultivars are roughly divided into several categories, based mostly on shape and size. "Slicing" or "globe" tomatoes are the usual tomatoes of commerce; beefsteak are large tomatoes often used for sandwiches and similar applications - their kidney-bean shape makes commercial use impractical; oxheart tomatoes can range in size up to beefsteaks, and are shaped like large strawberries; plum tomatoes, or paste tomatoes, are bred with a higher solid content for use in tomato sauce and paste and are usually oblong; cherry tomatoes are small and round, often sweet tomatoes generally eaten whole in salads; and grape tomatoes are smaller and oblong or pear-shaped, also used in salads.
Tomatoes are also commonly classified as determinate or indeterminate. Determinate, or bush, types bear a full crop all at once and top off at a specific height; they are often good choices for container growing. Determinate types are preferred by commercial growers who wish to harvest a whole field at one time, or home growers interested in canning. Indeterminate cultivars develop into vines that never top off and continue producing until killed by frost. They are preferred by home growers who wish ripe fruit throughout the season. As an intermediate form, there are plants sometimes known as "vigorous determinate" or "semi-determinate"; these top off like determinates but produce a second crop after the initial crop. Many, if not all, heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate. Commonly grown cultivars include:
Home Cultivars with exceptional taste include:
An excellent source for additional varieties of homegrown cultivars is the Seed Savers Exchange.
Most modern tomato cultivars are smooth surfaced but some older tomato cultivars and most modern beefsteaks often show pronounced ribbing, a feature that may have been common to virtually all pre-Columbian cultivars. In addition, some tomato cultivars produce fruit in colors other than red, including yellow, orange, pink, black, brown, and purple, though such fruit is not widely available in grocery stores, nor are their seedlings available in typical nurseries, but must be bought as seed, often via mail-order. Likewise, some less common varieties have fuzzy skin on the fruit, as is the case with the Fuzzy Peach tomato and Red Boar tomato plants.
There is also a considerable gap between commercial and home-gardener cultivars; home cultivars are often bred for flavor to the exclusion of all other qualities, while commercial cultivars are bred for such factors as consistent size and shape, disease and pest resistance, and suitability for mechanized picking and shipping.
Diseases and pests
Tomato cultivars vary widely in their resistance to disease. Modern hybrids focus on improving disease resistance over the heirloom plants. One common tomato disease is tobacco mosaic virus, and for this reason smoking or use of tobacco products are discouraged around tomatoes, although there is some scientific debate over whether the virus could possibly survive being burned and converted into smoke. Various forms of mildew and blight are also common tomato afflictions, which is why tomato cultivars are often marked with a combination of letters which refer to specific disease resistance. The most common letters are: V - verticillium wilt, F - fusarium wilt strain I, FF - fusarium wilt strain I & II, N - nematodes, T - tobacco mosaic virus, and A - alternaria.
Another particularly dreaded disease is curly top, carried by the beet leafhopper, which interrupts the lifecycle, ruining a nightshade plant as a crop. As the name implies, it has the symptom of making the top leaves of the plant wrinkle up and grow abnormally.
Some common tomato pests are cutworms, tomato hornworms and tobacco hornworms, aphids, cabbage loopers, whiteflies, tomato fruitworms, flea beetles, red spider mite, slugs, and Colorado potato beetles.
In the wild, original state, tomatoes required cross-pollination; they were much more self-incompatible than domestic cultivars. As a floral device to reduce selfing, the pistils of wild tomatoes extended farther out of the flower than today's cultivars. The stamens were, and remain, entirely within the closed corolla.
As tomatoes were moved from their native areas, their traditional pollinators, (probably a species of halictid bee) did not move with them. The trait of self-fertility (or self-pollenizing) became an advantage and domestic cultivars of tomato have been selected to maximize this trait.
This is not the same as self-pollination, despite the common claim that tomatoes do so. That tomatoes pollinate themselves poorly without outside aid is clearly shown in greenhouse situations where pollination must be aided by artificial wind, vibration of the plants (one brand of vibrator is a wand called an "electric bee" that is used manually), or more often today, by cultured bumblebees.
The anther of a tomato flower is shaped like a hollow tube, with the pollen produced within the structure rather than on the surface, as with most species. The pollen moves through pores in the anther, but very little pollen is shed without some kind of outside motion.
The best source of outside motion is a sonicating bee such as a bumblebee or the original wild halictid pollinator. In an outside setting, wind or biological agents provide sufficient motion to produce commercially viable crops.
Hydroponic and greenhouse cultivation
Tomatoes are often grown in greenhouses in cooler climates, and indeed there are cultivars such as the British 'Moneymaker' and a number of cultivars grown in Siberia that are specifically bred for indoor growing. In more temperate climates, it is not uncommon to start seeds in greenhouses during the late winter for future transplant. With the transplanting of tomatoes, there is a process of hardening that the plant must go through before being able to be placed outside in order to have greater survival.
Hydroponic tomatoes are also available, and the technique is often used in hostile growing environments as well as high-density plantings.
Picking and ripening
Tomatoes are often picked unripe (and thus green) and ripened in storage with ethylene. Ethylene is a hydrocarbon gas produced by many fruits that acts as the molecular cue to begin the ripening process. Tomatoes ripened in this way tend to keep longer but have poorer flavor and a mealier, starchier texture than tomatoes ripened on the plant. They may be recognized by their color, which is more pink or orange than the other ripe tomatoes' deep red.
In 1994 Calgene introduced a genetically modified tomato called the 'FlavrSavr' which could be vine ripened without compromising shelf life. However, the product was not commercially successful (see main article for details) and was only sold until 1997.
Recently, stores have begun selling "tomatoes on the vine", which are determinate varieties that are ripened or harvested with the fruits still connected to a piece of vine. These tend to have more flavor than artificially ripened tomatoes (at a price premium), but still may not be the equal of local garden produce.
Slow-ripening cultivars of tomato have been developed by crossing a non-ripening cultivar with ordinary tomato cultivars. Cultivars were selected whose fruits have a long shelf life and at least reasonable flavor.
Modern uses of tomatoes
Tomatoes are now eaten freely throughout the world, and their consumption is believed to benefit the heart among other things. Lycopene, one of nature's most powerful antioxidants, is present in tomatoes, and, especially when tomatoes are cooked, has been found beneficial in preventing prostate cancer. However, other research contradicts this claim. Tomato extract branded as Lycomato is now also being promoted for treatment of high blood pressure. 
Though it is botanically a fruit, the tomato is nutritionally categorized as a vegetable (see below). Since "vegetable" is not a botanical term, there is no contradiction in a plant part being a fruit botanically while still being considered a vegetable.
Tomatoes are used extensively in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, with Italian being the most notable. The tomato has an acidic property that is used to bring out other flavors. This same acidity makes tomatoes especially easy to preserve in home canning as tomato sauce or paste. The first to commercially can tomatoes was Harrison Woodhull Crosby in Jamesburg, New Jersey. Tomato juice is often canned and sold as a beverage. Unripe green tomatoes can also be used to make salsa, be breaded and fried, or pickled.
The town of Buñol, Spain, annually celebrates La Tomatina, a festival centered on an enormous tomato fight. Tomatoes are also a popular "non-lethal" throwing weapon in mass protests; and there is a common tradition of throwing rotten tomatoes at bad performers on a stage, although this tradition is more symbolic today. Embracing it for this protest connotation, the Dutch Socialist party adopted the tomato as their logo.
Known for its tomato growth and production, the Mexican state of Sinaloa takes the tomato as its symbol.
Culinary uses of tomatoes include:
Most tomatoes today are picked before fully ripe. They are bred to continue ripening, but the enzyme that ripens tomatoes stops working when it reaches temperatures below 12.5 °C (54.5 °F). Once an unripe tomato drops below that temperature, it will not continue to ripen. Once fully ripe, tomatoes can be stored in the refrigerator but are best kept and eaten at room temperature. Tomatoes stored in the refrigerator tend to lose flavor, but will still be edible; thus the "Never Refrigerate" stickers sometimes placed on tomatoes in supermarkets.
Tomato plants are vines, initially decumbent, typically growing six feet or more above the ground if supported, although erect bush varieties have been bred, generally three feet tall or shorter. It is a "tender" perennial, dying annually in temperate climates (to which it is not native). Tomato plants are dicots, and grow as a series of branching stems, with a terminal bud at the tip that does the actual growing. When that tip eventually stops growing, whether because of pruning or flowering, lateral buds take over and grow into other, fully functional, vines.
Tomato plant vines are typically pubescent, covered with tiny hairs. These hairs facilitate the vining process, turning into roots wherever the plant is in contact with the ground and moisture, especially if there is some issue with the vine's contact to its original root.
Tomato plants generally have compound leaves, known as Regular Leaf (RL) plants. Some cultivars, though, have simple leaves known as potato leaf style because of their resemblance to that close cousin. Of regular leaf varieties, there are variations, such as rugose leaves, which are deeply grooved, angora leaves, which are pubescent (hairy), and variegated, which have additional colors where a genetic flaw excludes chlorophyll from the leaves.
Their flowers, appearing on the apical meristem, have the anthers fused along the edges, forming a column surrounded by the pistil's style. These tend to be self-fertilizing. This is because they are native to the Americas; all plants from the New World evolved without honeybees (which are native to the old world, only), and have other specific means of fertilization.
Its fruit is classified, botanically, as a berry. As a true fruit, it develops from the ovary of the plant after fertilization, its flesh comprising the pericarp walls. The fruit contains hollow spaces full of seeds and moisture, called locular cavities. These vary, among cultivated species, according to type. Some smaller tomatoes have two cavities, globe-shaped typically have three to five, and beefsteak having a great number of smaller ones, while paste tomatoes have very few, very small cavities.
The seeds need to come from a mature fruit, and be dried/fermented before germination.
Myths of the tomato
There are many legends about the tomato. For example, it has been claimed that tomatoes were not widely eaten in the U.S. until the late 1800s. It has sometimes been claimed that tomatoes were considered aphrodisiacs and so were shunned by the Puritans. Other claims center on the supposed fear that tomatoes were poisonous, based on the fact that they belong to the Solanales Order, or "Nightshade" family, which contains many toxic plants. Many legends also maintain that the tomato was introduced into the U.S. from South America by one particular person; Thomas Jefferson is sometimes mentioned.
Tomatoes' status as an aphrodisiac may be due to a mistranslation. Legend has it a Frenchman on his travels ate a meal with tomatoes in it and was fascinated with the new taste. He went back to the chef, who was Italian, and asked him what this new ingredient was. The chef said "Pomme de Maure" (Apple of the Moors), but the Frenchman misunderstood and thought he said "Pomme d'amour" (apple of love). The modern Italian word for tomato however is "pomodoro", which means "golden apple". Also, there is no plausible connection of the tomato to the Moors.
In the United States, the most famous legend of this sort was introduced by Joseph S. Sickler in the mid-1900s, and became the subject of a CBS broadcast of You Are There in 1949. The story goes that the lingering doubts about the safety of the tomato in the United States were largely put to rest in 1820, when Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson announced that at noon on September 26, he would eat a basket of tomatoes in front of the Salem, New Jersey courthouse. Reportedly, a crowd of more than 2,000 persons gathered in front of the courthouse to watch the poor man die after eating the poisonous fruits, and were shocked when he lived. In his book Smith notes that there is little, if any, historical evidence for any of these legends, and that they continue to be repeated largely because they are entertaining stories.
It is also said that the tomato became popular in France during the French Revolution, because the revolutionaries' iconic color was red; and at one point it was suggested that they should eat red food as a show of loyalty. Since European royalty was still leery of the nightshade-related tomato, it apparently was the perfect choice. This may also be why the first reported use of the tomato in the U.S. was in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1812, because of the French influence in that region.
There is also a story which claims that an agent for Britain attempted to kill General George Washington by feeding him a dish laced with tomatoes during the American Revolution.
"Tomato" also has been used as a slang word for an attractive woman. This use was most common from the 1920s through the 1940s and only within the USA.
In 1753 the tomato was placed in the genus Solanum by Linnaeus as Solanum lycopersicum L. (derivation, 'lyco', wolf, plus 'persicum', peach, i.e., "wolf-peach"). However, in 1768 Philip Miller placed it in its own genus, and he named it Lycopersicon esculentum. This name came into wide use but was in breach of the plant naming rules. Technically, the combination Lycopersicon lycopersicum (L.) H.Karst. would be more correct, but this name (published in 1881) has hardly ever been used. Therefore, it was decided to conserve the well-known Lycopersicon esculentum, making this the correct name for the tomato when it is placed in the genus Lycopersicon.
However, genetic evidence (e.g., Peralta & Spooner 2001) has now shown that Linnaeus was correct in the placement of the tomato in the genus Solanum, making the Linnaean name correct; if Lycopersicon is excluded from Solanum, Solanum is left as a paraphyletic taxon. Despite this, it is likely that the exact taxonomic placement of the tomato will be controversial for some time to come, with both names found in the literature.
The Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research began sequencing the tomato genome in 2004 and is creating a database of genomic sequences and information on the tomato and related plants. A draft version of the full genome expected to be published by 2008. The genomes of its organelles (mitochondria and chloroplast) are also expected to be published as part of the project.
Fruit or vegetable?
Botanically, a tomato is the ovary, together with its seeds, of a flowering plant: a fruit or, more precisely, a berry. However, the tomato is not as sweet as those foodstuffs usually called fruits and, from a culinary standpoint, it is typically served as part of a salad or main course of a meal, as are vegetables, rather than at dessert, as are fruits. As noted above, the term "vegetable" has no botanical meaning and is purely a culinary term.
This argument has had legal implications in the United States. In 1887, U.S. tariff laws that imposed a duty on vegetables but not on fruits caused the tomato's status to become a matter of legal importance. The U.S. Supreme Court settled the controversy in 1893 by declaring that the tomato is a vegetable, based on the popular definition that classifies vegetables by use, that they are generally served with dinner and not dessert (Nix v. Hedden (149 U.S. 304)). The holding of the case applies only to the interpretation of the Tariff Act of March 3, 1883, and the court did not purport to reclassify the tomato for botanical or other purposes other than paying a tax under a tariff act.
The tomato has been designated the state vegetable of New Jersey. Arkansas took both sides by declaring the "South Arkansas Vine Ripe Pink Tomato" to be both the state fruit and the state vegetable in the same law, citing both its botanical and culinary classifications. In 2006, the Ohio House of Representatives passed a law that would have declared the tomato to be the official state fruit, but the bill died when the Ohio Senate failed to act on it. Tomato juice has been the official beverage of Ohio since 1965. A.W. Livingston, of Reynoldsburg, Ohio played a large part in popularizing the tomato in the late 1800s.
Due to the scientific definition of a fruit, the tomato remains a fruit when not dealing with US tariffs. Nor is it the only culinary vegetable that is a botanical fruit: eggplants, cucumbers, and squashes of all kinds (such as zucchini and pumpkins) share the same ambiguity.
The pronunciation of tomato differs in different English-speaking countries; the two most common variants are /təˈmɑːtəʊ/ and /təˈmeɪtoʊ/. Speakers from the British Isles, most of the Commonwealth, and older generations among speakers of Southern American English typically say /təˈmɑːtəʊ/, while most American and Canadian speakers usually say /təˈmeɪtoʊ/. Most or all languages, apart from American English, have a word that corresponds more to the former pronunciation, including the original Nahuatl word "tomatl" from which they are all taken.
The word's dual pronunciations were immortalized in Ira and George Gershwin's 1937 song "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" (You like /pəˈteɪtoʊ/ and I like /pəˈtɑːtəʊ/ / You like /təˈmeɪtoʊ/ and I like /təˈmɑːtəʊ/) and have become a symbol for nitpicking pronunciation disputes. In this capacity it has even become an American slang term: saying /təˈmeɪtoʊ, təˈmɑːtəʊ/ when presented with two choices can mean "What's the difference?" or "It's all the same to me."
On October 30, 2006 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that tomatoes might be the source of a salmonella outbreak causing 172 illnesses in 18 states . The affected states include Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, Vermont and Wisconsin. Tomatoes have been linked to seven salmonella outbreaks since 1990 (from the Food Safety Network).
The heaviest tomato ever was one of 3.51 kg (7 lb 12 oz), of the cultivar 'Delicious', grown by Gordon Graham of Edmond, Oklahoma in 1986. The largest tomato plant grown was of the cultivar 'Sungold' and reached 19.8 m (65 ft) length, grown by Nutriculture Ltd (UK) of Mawdesley, Lancashire, UK, in 2000.
The massive "tomato tree" growing inside the Walt Disney World Resort's experimental greenhouses in Lake Buena Vista, Florida may be the largest single tomato plant in the world. The plant has been recognized as a Guinness World Record Holder, with a harvest of more than 32,000 tomatoes and a total weight of 1,151.84 pounds. This one-of-a-kind plant yields thousands of tomatoes at one time from a single vine. Yong Huang, Epcot's manager of agricultural science discovered the unique plant in Beijing, China. Huang brought its seeds to Epcot and created the specialized greenhouse for the fruit to grow. The vine grows golf ball-sized tomatoes which are served at Walt Disney World restaurants. The world record-setting tomato tree can be seen by guests along the Living With the Land boat ride at Epcot.
On August 30, 2007, 40,000 Spaniards gathered in Buñol to throw 115,000 kilograms of tomatoes at each other in the yearly Tomatina festival. Bare-chested tourists also included hundreds of British, French and Germans.
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- The On-line Tomato Vine (Keith Mueller)
- "I say tomayto, you say tomahto" (Sam Cox)
- Tomato Study and History
- Tomato Pests
- Tomato Genome Sequencing Project
- Tomatoes in Macedonia
- Love Apples, Wolf Peaches, Catsup & Ketchup: 500 Years of Silliness - Informative but non-scholarly essay on the history of the Tomato.
- Solanum lycopersicum L. on Solanaceae Source - Images, specimens and a full list of scientific synonyms previously used to refer to the tomato.