Tomatoes, All You Need To Know

Tomatoes, All You Need To Know

Tomatoes are among the most popular fruits in the world.

But isn't the tomato used as a vegetable? 

Yes, it is! However, even if cooks use it as a vegetable, scientists classify it as a fruit

World Atlas wrote an article about the most popular fruits in the world in 2014. Tomatoes were ranked number one. The top five popular fruits vary from year to year and from region to region. Bananas, apples, tomatoes, watermelons, grapes, oranges, grapefruits, and strawberries are always on the list of top 10 popular fruits worldwide.

This article contains information about the health benefits of tomatoes, their side effects, nutrition facts, ripening process, and other interesting facts.

 

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Nutrition Facts

The regular type of tomato, year-round available, has the following nutrition facts per 100g:

  • Calories: 18
  • Carbs: 3.9g
  • Fiber: 1.2g
  • Sugar: 2.6g
  • Fat: 0.2g
  • Protein: 0.9g
  • Water: 94.5g

The water content is substantial. You could even say that tomatoes are just water and carbs. 

Tomatoes have some fiber, but the amount of simple sugars is much higher. Out of 3.9g of carbs, more than 50% is glucose and fructose. This is why this food is sometimes avoided by those who wish to follow low-carb diets, such as Keto or Atkins. 

They are a good source of vitamins and minerals. Here's the data per 100g:

  • Vitamin A: 833 IU - 17% RDA
  • Vitamin C: 12.7 mg - 21% RDA
  • Vitamin K: 7.9 mcg - 10% RDA
  • Potassium: 237 mg - 7% RDA
  • Folate: 15mcg - 4% RDA

As a summary, tomatoes have low calories, good amounts of vitamins, and low-fat content. The only downside is the high quantity of simple sugars in proportion to the number of calories.

 

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Bioactive Ingredients of Tomato Fruits

Tomatoes are rich in phytochemicals, phenolics and carotenoids being the principal bioactive ingredients.

Phenolic acids, such as caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, sinapic acid, and ferulic acid, along with flavonoids, have numerous health benefits and antioxidant properties. Most of the phytochemicals present in tomatoes help fight oxidative stress. This helps the body defeat various health issues.

Red ripened tomatoes contain high amounts of lycopene, which helps reduce the risk of heart disease. Lycopene content can be fortified through cooking. Therefore, tomato paste, sauce, purée, etc. contain much higher amounts of lycopene than fresh produce. Nonetheless, people should opt for the raw option whenever possible. 

Tip: Lycopene can also be found in supplement form. Check out these highest rated products on Amazon:

Beta-carotene, another major carotenoid, is responsible for the yellow/orange color of foods (the more intense the hue, the higher the amount of beta-carotene). This bioactive ingredient is the best dietary source of vitamin A.

Apart from lycopene and beta-carotene, tomatoes also contain lutein and alpha-carotene. Each compound has different properties but together work well against diseases.

For the absorption of the carotenoid phytochemicals in tomatoes to increase, you should eat them alongside olive oil, avocado, or other foods containing healthy fats.

 

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Why Are Tomatoes Good For Your Health?

Consuming different types of fruits and vegetables is essential for maintaining a healthy body. Tomatoes are one of the staple foods of the Mediterranean diet for a good reason. They help reduce the risk of developing heart disease, skin issues, and cancer. 

Cherry tomatoes are more abundant in beta-carotene than the regular ones. Due to their variety, they promote health in different ways. But, overall, they have similar uses.

  1. Cancer. The consumption of tomatoes is linked to fewer cases of stomach, prostate, and lung cancer. Scientists suspect that lycopene has something to do with the prevention of the disease, but its role needs further study. What's sure is that all the bioactive compounds work together and have positive effects on human body cells.
  2. Cardiovascular health. Lycopene and beta-carotene are essential for heart health. Studies show that those who do not have enough of these carotenoids in their body are predisposed to acute myocardial infarction. In addition, tomato products have anti-inflammatory properties along with boosting your immune system.
  3. Sunburn. According to some studies, lycopene has a positive effect on skin health. Those who ate tomato products with olive oil had fewer sunburns. Moreover, tomatoes contain a high amount of vitamin C, which is essential for the production of collagen. Those who don't get enough vitamin C are predisposed to skin problems. 
  4. IBS. Tomatoes are considered low-FODMAPs. This means that people who have IBS won't have a problem consuming them. Low-FODMAPs are associated with reduced to zero symptoms of IBS. 
  5. Constipation. Naringenin is a flavonoid present in tomato skin. This compound has hepatoprotective, anti-mutagenic, anti-inflammatory, anti-atherogenic, and laxative effects. If you suffer from lifestyle-induced constipation, tomatoes might come in handy. Moreover, they contain plenty of water, which promotes hydration and bowel movements. 
  6. Eye Health. As it was previously mentioned, tomatoes contain carotenoids. Lutein and zeaxanthin lower the risk of eye damage because they take in blue light. Lutein also protects against age-related macular degeneration. Moreover, beta-carotene helps prevent night blindness, which is a result of vitamin A deficiency.

 

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What Can Go Wrong? Risks of Tomato Consumption

Not many have problems when consuming tomatoes. The chances of someone being allergic or having side effects after eating them are low. However, these possibilities exist. Here are a few words of caution:

  • People who have an allergy to grass pollen can also be allergic to tomatoes. The condition is called an oral-allergy syndrome. The symptoms are itchiness, scratchy feeling in the mouth or throat, or even swelling of the oral cavity. 
  • Excess consumption of tomatoes can lead to symptoms of acid reflux. These fruits contain both malic and citric acid, which are risk factors for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). People who already have GERD might want to limit their intake of tomatoes to avoid aggravating their symptoms.
  • Those who suffer from any form of renal ailments need to avoid tomato sauces or pastes. Tomato products contain a high amount of potassium. If your kidneys are not healthy, potassium can accumulate in the blood. One of the side effects is having a heart attack.
  • Moreover, tomato leaves can cause poisoning. WebMD states that a large portion could cause symptoms such as digestive issues, throat irritation, headache, spasms, and even death. 

 

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Types of Tomatoes and Their Flavors

Tomatoes are usually red, but they can also be yellow, green, orange, and even purple. There are also plenty of tomato subspecies that have independent shapes and flavors. They can be predominantly acidic (Green Zebra tomato) or sweet (White Tomesol tomatoes).

Surprisingly, tomatoes also have a natural umami flavor due to their high levels of glutamic acid, which increase as they fully develop.

Here's a list of the most common types of tomatoes and their flavors.

  1. Grape Tomatoes. They are those small oval tomatoes that are a popular ingredient in salads and/or snacks. They have a meaty texture and a sweet to tangy flavor. They can also be grilled or roasted. 
  2. Red Beefsteak Tomatoes. These are great for making sauces or canning. Nonetheless, they can be easily sliced and added to your sandwich or burger. Beefsteak tomatoes are large, have a meaty texture and the traditional tomato flavor.
  3. Green Beefsteak Tomatoes. Similar to their red sisters, they can be used for all kinds of recipes. The main difference is their sharp, acidic taste.
  4. Cherry Tomatoes. This type of tomato comes in all colors (red, yellow, orange, and purple). They are versatile and can be easily placed on skewers. They can also be grilled. And, of course, they're a great addition to salads, sauces, or snacks. Cherry tomatoes are smaller than beefsteak tomatoes but larger than grape tomatoes.
  5. Heirloom Tomatoes. This type of tomatoes has been around for as long as one can remember. They are rich in flavor, varying from sweet to tangy. These tomatoes are non-hybrids with a better reputation. They are considered healthier and more natural than other types. Heirloom tomatoes are best when used for salads, snacks, grilling, and roasting.
  6. Tomatoes On The Vine. When grocery shopping, it's best to keep them attached to the vine. It extends their shelf-life. They have a fresh and sweet taste while keeping a firm texture.
  7. Roma Tomatoes. Also known as the Italian plum tomatoes, they have a fresh and sweet taste. They're perfect for making sauces and pastes, but they are also a popular choice for salads.
  8. Cocktail tomatoes. These have a traditional tomato flavor. They are sweet and work well with any meal. Cocktail tomatoes can be cooked in stews, roasted, and grilled. They are perfect for pizza sauces.

 

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Tomato Paste vs Tomato Purée vs Tomato Sauce

The main difference between tomato paste, tomato purée, and tomato sauce is consistency.

Tomato sauce is a liquid food, while tomato purée is a thick sauce. The paste has a much firmer consistency. The best way to see their texture is to pour each one in a pan or a bowl. Tomato sauce will spread everywhere, and it can be poured easily. The same applies to tomato purée, except it has a thicker consistency. Meanwhile, tomato paste will remain mostly intact.

Here are some other differences between the three:

Flavor and Cooking Time

Tomato paste requires a longer cooking time; therefore, it has the strongest savor. The taste is similar to dried tomatoes. It is the most concentrated of all the tomato products. 

Tomato purée has a sweet, light taste, closer to that of fresh tomatoes. Tomato sauce has a similar flavor with less intensity because it's more liquid. The cooking time of these two is shorter than that of tomato paste. 

Uses

Tomato paste is mainly used to add that umami flavor to soups and stews, create thicker sauces, and other recipes in which you want to add a natural hint of umami taste without making the tomato taste noticeable. 

Tomato purée can also be added to stews or different recipes, but in higher quantities than tomato paste. The best way to acquire the same tang is to double or triple the amount. 

For example, if you add one tbsp of tomato paste to your recipe, then add two to three tbsps of tomato purée or tomato sauce.

As an additional note, ketchup and pizza sauce have tomatoes as main ingredients, but they have other ingredients as well.

Ketchup is made out of tomatoes, sugar, and vinegar, salt, spices, flavorings, onion, and/or garlic.

Pizza sauce is usually made out of tomato sauce, garlic, spices and olive oil. Pesto and other sauces can be added to the mix.

Apart from this, the way each term is used can be confusing. For example, in the UK, ketchup is also known as tomato sauce. This means something completely different in other parts of the world. In some places, it is also known as a red sauce. 

The thicker the sauce is, the stronger the flavor and the higher the amount of lycopene. According to Linus Pauling Institute, tomato paste contains 75mg of lycopene/cup, tomato purée 54.4mg of lycopene/cup, ketchup 2.5mg of lycopene/1 tablespoon, while fresh tomatoes have only 4.6 mg of lycopene/cup.

 

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Did You Know...

  • Tomatoes produce ethylene, which helps them mature and reach their final stage of development.
  • Tomatoes are taken to the grocery store while they are still immature. Afterward, they are sprayed with ethylene gas. This makes them look fully developed, but their flavor is compromised. 
  • Organic and local produce tastes better because they are allowed to reach maturity with nature's help.