The hundreds of tomato cultivars vary in colour, size, shape, skin thickness, flesh density, pip size, juiciness and balance of sweetness to acidity. While each is a unique combination of features, they may be loosely grouped as beefsteak (large with dense flesh), plum, round, hollow (for stuffing), and cherry tomatoes. Whatever the variety, the flavour will be better if it is ripened in the sun while still attached to the vine. Flavour is maximized if tomatoes are stored at room temperature, as refrigeration impairs both flavour and texture.
Tomatoes are a fruit and part of the nightshade family (like potatoes and eggplants), but they are served and prepared as a vegetable, which is why most people consider them a vegetable and not a fruit. Native to South America, and brought to Europe by Spanish explorers. Tomatoes once enjoyed a reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac, especially in France, while people in other countries believed them to be deadly poisonous.
The tomato is now grown and eaten around the world. It is used in diverse ways, including raw in salads, and processed into ketchup or tomato soup. Unripe green tomatoes can also be breaded and fried, used to make salsa, or pickled. Tomato juice is sold as a drink, and is used in cocktails such as the Bloody Mary. Tomatoes are acidic, making them especially easy to preserve in home canning, whole, in pieces, as tomato sauce or paste. The fruit is also preserved by drying, often in the sun, and sold either in bags or in jars with oil.
Tomatoes are used extensively in Mediterranean cuisine. In Italy, they are used to make sauce for pasta, pizza and many other dishes. Sliced tomatoes are served with fresh mozzarella and fresh basil leaves, and the trio is sprinkled with olive oil. Other dishes that depend on tomatoes for their character include minestrone, gazpacho, ratatouille, Greek salad and tomato soup. And, of course, tomatoes are a staple of New World cuisine, from the American South's fried green tomatoes to Texas's chili con carne and Latin America's salsa. Finally, sun-dried tomatoes and tomato sauce, purée, paste, and diced tomatoes are commonly used to flavour a wide variety of dishes.
Large red beefsteaks are slightly irregular; globes are red, medium-size and round; plum tomatoes are egg-shaped and red or yellow (grape tomatoes are baby plums); cherry tomatoes are small and round. There are many heirloom varieties that are not marketed widely but come in red, yellow, green and even purple, as well as striped.
Beefsteak Tomatoes: A beef tomato (British English) or beefsteak tomato (American English) is any of the largest varieties of cultivated tomatoes, some weighing 450 grams or more. Most are pink or red with numerous small seed compartments distributed throughout the fruit. These are the biggest tomatoes, and have a meaty texture with a sweet, mellow flavour. They are good for slicing on sandwiches, salads, grilling or stuffing.
Campari Tomatoes: Noted for its juiciness, high sugar level, low acidity, and lack of mealiness. Camparis are deep red and larger than a cherry tomato, but smaller and rounder than a plum tomato. They are often sold as “tomato-on-the-vine” in supermarkets, a category of tomato that has become increasingly popular over the years.
Black Cherry Tomatoes: The taste of these small tomatoes are as unique as their appearance. The variety is perfectly round in purple/brown/reddish shades with blackened hues. Black Cherry Tomatoes have a sweet, yet rich, smoky and complex flavour that must be experienced to appreciate just how special this fruit is compared to other varieties. Use in salads or out of hand as a snack. Choose fruit that is firm with no shrivel. Ripen at room temperature. Refrigerate ripe cherry tomatoes for only a very short time as chill will affect flavour.
Cherry Tomatoes: Small and very sweet, cherry tomatoes are pricier than salad tomatoes but their intense flavour is worth the extra cash. You can easily eat these directly out of hand or add them to salads, but try them baked, roasted, in pasta sauces, or stuffed as delicious side dishes. Cherry tomatoes are generally two to three times the size of grape tomatoes and vary from round to oblong. Store at room temperature for up to one week.
Grape Tomatoes: These tomatoes are about half the size of Cherry Tomatoes and sweeter than that or the Roma Tomato. Enjoy these as convenient snacks, their low water content practically eliminates the often accidental “squirt” factor that can cause messes. Store at room temperature for up to one week.
Green Tomatoes: There are two types of green tomato. One is unripe, and is quite tart but good for chutneys, or fried. The other is a variety that stays green when ripe, has a tangy flavour and is good in salads or, again, fried.
Roma Tomatoes: Elongated, egg-shaped tomatoes, also called plum, Italian and paste tomatoes. With dense, meaty flesh, and relatively little pulp, they are best for cooking, holding their shape and readily reducing for sauces.
Rosa Tomatoes: Baby plum-shaped tomatoes with firm skin and dense flesh. Their intense tomato flavour enhanches mixed salads.
Round or Salad Tomatoes: General-purpose tomatoes, typically red, and medium-sized, with large cavities full of juicy seed pulp. Ideal for eating raw.
Yellow Plum Tomatoes: Small , plum-shaped tomatoes, with golden-yellow skin and paler yellow flesh. Juicy and sweeter-tasting than their red equivalent, they are best appreciated raw.
Hothouse Tomatoes: Represent nearly one-fourth of the retail fresh tomato market in the U.S. Canada has led the development of the hothouse tomato industry. Israel and the Netherlands are also major exporters of hothouse tomatoes, often sold in bunches still on the vine.
Sun-dried Tomatoes: Halved tomatoes, usually plum, salted and dried in the sun. Leathery and intensely flavoured, they need rehydration, in oil or water, before use.
- Tomatoes are available year-round. However, locally grown vine-ripened tomatoes are in season from July until October.
- Available year round, but at their peak in June to September. The most flavourful are ripened on the vine. Choose firm tomatoes, richly coloured and noticeably fragrant.
- Pale, unripe, spotted, or refrigerator-chilled tomatoes will be unpalatable.
- Tomatoes are vulnerable and must be treated gently. Ripen tomatoes by sitting them stem-side down. Because this is the last part of the tomato to ripen, it can best support the weight of a ripe tomato without collapsing. Ripe tomatoes should be stored at room temperature and used within a few days. Chilling tomatoes mutes their flavour so, unless they are very ripe, they should be stored at room temperature. If you won't be eating ripe tomatoes for a couple of days, put them in the fridge in a perforated bag, but take them out of the fridge for about 30 minutes before eating, so that they can warm up. If you don't use a tin of tomatoes all in one go, transfer the remainder to a non-metal, airtight container and store in the fridge - it will last for around two days.
You do not have to do much to prepare a tomato.
Wash, and then leave whole or halve, quarter, slice, chop or dice, as required.
Remove the core when dicing or slicing.
You don’t have to peel thin-skinned round tomatoes, but plum tomatoes have thick skins that can be unpleasant unless peeled.
If you want to remove the skins before making them into a sauce, cut out the green stalk and core at the top of the tomato, cut a small, shallow cross at its base, then put them in bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to stand for 30 seconds, then drain. When they are cool enough to handle, pull away the loosened skin.
Tomatoes are also available tinned, pulped, puréed and juiced.
Roast whole (15-20 minutes).
Halve and grill (3-4 minutes).
Slice and fry (2-3 minutes on each side).
Use in sauces, soups, stews, salads.
Oven-roast plum tomatoes by splitting them lengthwise, combining with olive oil, garlic, oregano, basil, thyme, kosher salt, and black pepper, then baking at 110°C (225°F) for 4 to 5 hours or until shriveled and semi-dry, and add to pasta, sandwiches, and eggs.
Add sliced tomatoes to sandwiches or hamburgers.
Add tomato wedges to vegetable salads.
Cook tomatoes into tomato sauces or tomato jam.
Sub-Category: Fruit Vegetables
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