Nothing says “summer” quite like the taste of a perfectly ripened tomato. Most of us know they taste good and are good for us, but we may be a little vague on the “why”. To start with, tomatoes, like most vegetables, are low in calories and fat and contain fiber. They are also particularly high in vitamins A , K and C, all of which help protect your body in various ways. The anti-oxidant, lycopene, is abundant in tomatoes, and they also have a good amount of the minerals potassium and chromium.
Tomatoes, specifically the lycopene they contain, have been shown to help lower blood pressure, protect against cell damage, fight inflammation, reduce the risk of certain cancers, and protect various parts of the body from disease and damage. Wow. No wonder they show up on lists of the so-called “superfoods”.
Choosing and Storing
For the best nutrition and the best taste, choose tomatoes that are ripe, but still somewhat firm. Tomatoes grown locally are almost always superior in taste and texture to those that have been shipped.
Most cooks agree that storing a tomato in the refrigerator harms both the taste and the texture of a good tomato. Place them in a bowl in a single layer. They need some light to ripen out, but not direct sun. Of course, once the tomato is cut, it needs to go in the fridge for food safety reasons.
Tomatoes are delicious cooked or raw. You will get the most vitamin C and A eating them raw, but the lycopene is actually more available if it is cooked. In either case, most of the lycopene and the fiber is in the skin.
Here’s one of my favorite kitchen tricks when tomatoes are abundant in my garden or the farmers’ market. Simply remove the stems from the tomatoes, core them if you want, puree them in a blender, cook them down to desired consistency, cool and freeze in pint containers. This way, you have kept the nutrition of the lycopene-rich skin, and you have tomato puree that will lend a touch of summer to your winter soups and chilis.
The Age Old Question—Vegetable or Fruit?
Botanically speaking, tomatoes are a fruit. However, they were legally declared a vegetable in 1893 in case that had to do with setting tariffs. Fruit or vegetable, the tomato is delicious, versatile, packed with nutrition and locally abundant right now.