One of my favorite things I like to do this time of year is visit the local farmer’s market and load up on my fresh fruits and vegetables for the week. This past Saturday, I was there—tasting apples and a variety of flavored nuts (almonds, in this town, it’s all about almonds!), while carefully selecting cucumbers, peppers, squash, and that market staple, tomatoes. Boy, do I love fresh summer tomatoes!
Recently, tomatoes have been getting a bad rap, with all the salmonella scares. And don’t get me wrong—there are several crops infected with these serious bacteria. The good news: most of the tainted crops have been removed from the marketplace, and none have been traced back to any local area farms. I still suggest exercising caution (wash and rewash all of your produce, not just tomatoes), but do not stop eating these nutritious and tasty…um, vegetables? Fruits? Ah, let me get back to you on that.
To even suggest that tomatoes sold in your grocery store are of the same species as those bought fresh (some are picked that morning!) at your local farmer’s market, is to compare eating frozen pizza to a fresh-from-the-oven slice from your favorite pizzeria. There is no comparison. Same with tomatoes. Store-bought tomatoes are months-old, stored and refrigerated for who-knows-how-long before being placed in the produce section.
My suggestion—Don’t buy them!
My other suggestion—Grow your own!
My last suggestion—If you can’t grow your own, then support your local farmer’s market and load up on this wonderful…ahh, vegetable…I mean, fruit? Chew on that for a bit longer and I promise I will get back to you.
Why are tomatoes so good for you? Lycopene. This is the chemical that makes tomatoes red. A review of over 50 different studies showed consistently that the more tomatoes and tomato products people eat, the lower their risks of many different kinds of cancer. The evidence is stronger in the prostate, lung, and stomach. The tomato is also an excellent source of vitamin C (one medium tomato provides 40% of the RDA) and a good source of vitamin A (20% of the RDA).
Okay, well and good, Mike, but the summer-fresh tomato season is short, and you suggest we shy away from the grocery store tomatoes. What do we do for the other eight months?
Beg your pardon?
The tomatoes. Can them.
Oh, I thought you meant…
Never mind that. For those months in between the too-short farm-fresh tomato season, I suggest, especially if you grow your own, to eat as many as you can, freeze some, and then can, or jar, the rest. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how fresh and tasty they remain months after you have plucked them from the vine. As for the rest of you who don’t grow your own—buy them canned. There are several excellent canned tomato products to choose from. I look for organic and watch the sodium levels. While these are not as tasty as the summer fresh fruit (veggie?), they still, in my opinion, are many times tastier that those sad excuses sitting forlornly in your grocer’s produce section. And here’s a bonus: processed tomatoes contain even more lysopene because the process helps release concentrated carotenoids. Even in ketchup!
What’s your favorite tomato dish? Growing up in an Italian household, where my mother made a tomato sauce once a week, I love pasta. I could drink marinara sauce! (I’m kidding…I use an i.v. drip). But summertime, I love nothing better than slicing up a fresh tomato (still warm from sitting on a window sill to ripen. Do not put fresh tomatoes in the fridge—it reduces flavor and texture, turning them into clones of their pathetic cousins from the grocery store) and eating it between slices of lightly toasted bread, a touch of mayonnaise, maybe a slice of cheese, and salt and pepper. My mouth is watering. Hope yours is too.
So, what’s the verdict?
Yeah, wow, tomatoes are good for you and taste great, especially in the summer. Gonna run out and—
No, not that. Fruit or vegetable?
A: To really figure out if a tomato is a fruit or vegetable, you need to know what makes a fruit a fruit, and a vegetable a vegetable. The big question to ask is: does it have seeds?
If the answer is yes, then technically, you have a fruit. This means that tomatoes are a fruit. It also makes cucumbers, squash, green beans and walnuts fruits as well.
What does it all mean? Who knows? What I do know is this: call them what you want, but just go out there and eat summer-fresh tomatoes every day while they last. They taste great, and may just save your life.
Until next time…