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The magic of tomatoes is not just in their external beauty but in their delightful and hard to define flavor. They can simultaneously be described as sweet, tart, fresh or green tasting. They are succulent and emblematic of the summertime. I think it is fair to say that they taste like the sun. If you have ever eaten an organic, home grown tomato, you can appreciate the time it spent on the vine being kissed by the sunlight and slowly growing. They resemble little solar batteries soaking up the rays and storing them in the form of delicious juicy flesh.

Where did Tomatoes Come From?

Tomato plants are native to South America, in the area now occupied by Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Bolivia. They were brought to Europe in the 16th century. From the point of view of botany, tomato is definitely a fruit but also a berry since it is formed from a single ovary. Tomatoes are classified as part of the Solanaceae or nightshade family. Peppers, potatoes and eggplants, for instance, are other notable relatives of tomatoes.

Tomatoes range incredibly in shape and coloration, with the heirloom varieties being particularly attractive for their flavor. Never ever settle for a tasteless, bland, flavorless conventional tomato. Think about the extraordinary difference: the time spent in the field, unsprayed, untouched and exposed to the elements, the rain and sun. Calling a tomato an “heirloom”, by the way, means that the seeds from that cultivar have been handed down over time and that the plant in question is subject to open pollination.

Thankfully, tomatoes are very accommodating and can be grown in almost any situation. Anyone can have a producing tomato plant in a pot on a sunny spot of a kitchen or terrace. They are forgiving plants with beautiful fuzzy leaves that smell divine. The scent of tomato leaves is like nothing else and rivals any herb in your garden. However, remember that they are not edible since they contain huge amounts of alkaloids.

I usually plant marigolds all around them to prevent pests, but if the occasional green (and very hungry) caterpillar sets up shop on one of the plants I tend to be obliging. Caterpillars are harmless, stunning little creatures that transform into gorgeous big moths. A tomato is not much of a sacrifice to help that little guy along. I just say hi to him every morning and become acquainted with it along the way.

How Do I Pick a Great Tomato?

I like tomatoes that are slightly under ripe. You can store them in a bowl on your counter and eat them while they are still firm to the touch. Some of my favorite are Black Krims and Sun Golds. I also like Black Zebras a lot and relish a White Wonder if I can find them in the farmers market. The best summer tomatoes are enjoyed raw, at room temperature and with just a drizzle of excellent olive oil and a bit of sea salt. A little balsamic vinegar brings out their natural sweetness as well. Beyond that, there is not much more that you should do to a fantastic, perfect tomato.

Since tomatoes are sensitive to cold, and it impedes their ripening process, is best to store them at room temperature and out of direct exposure to sunlight. If your tomatoes are not ripe to your liking, place them in a paper bag with a banana. The ethylene gas emission from the banana will get the tomatoes to the perfect state of maturation faster.

A word of caution if you sometimes opt for canned tomatoes during the wintertime or because of convenience: make sure you thoroughly read your labels. The absence of lead should be clearly stated. Many countries around the world do not have standards for lead content in their containers. An acidic fruit such as tomatoes can cause corrosion within the can, becoming dangerous for consumption. Choose cans manufactured with non corrosive linings and make sure that they do not contain any BPAs either. Even better, buy tomato products in glass containers.

Tomatoes Offer Many Nutritional Benefits.

Including tomatoes in your diet has been associated with a higher antioxidant activity in the body. Tomatoes have been studied both for their antioxidant content and for their ability to regulate fats in the bloodstream. They are very high in well researched antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, but also in Lycopene which has excellent heart-supportive properties. Lycopene has the ability to lower the risk of lipid peroxidation in the bloodstream. Lipid peroxidation takes place when fats are damaged by oxygen and chronic high levels of these fats in the bloodstream lead to severe problems. The body stays in a permanent state of inflammation and atherosclerosis can result in stroke or a coronary event. Daily intake of tomatoes can decrease total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Lessening inflammation and build up in the arteries is the main priority and tomatoes can help achieve this goal.

In addition, the treatment and prevention of prostate cancer has been strongly linked to tomato intake. Tomatoes can absolutely help lower risk of prostate cancer in men. It appears that the main nutrient responsible for the protective effect is alpha-tomatine. Alpha-tomatine is a saponin phytonutrient that alters metabolic activity in developing prostate cancer cells. It’s also been observed that it contributes to the destruction of cancer cells that have already been fully formed.

If their amazing beauty and flavor were not enough reasons to include tomatoes in your diet, increasing your chances of avoiding serious diseases should certainly make you reconsider. Don’t let another summer go by without enjoying this fruit and diversify the varieties of tomatoes that you eat for additional health benefits. Tomatoes come in a rainbow of stunning colors, each with their own delicious texture and flavor.