AskDefine | Define tomatoes

Dictionary Definition



1 mildly acid red or yellow pulpy fruit eaten as a vegetable
2 native to South America; widely cultivated in many varieties [syn: love apple, tomato plant, Lycopersicon esculentum] [also: tomatoes (pl)]tomatoes See tomato

User Contributed Dictionary



tomatoes plural
  1. Plural of tomato

Extensive Definition

The tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) is a plant in the Solanaceae or nightshade family, as are its close cousins tobacco, chili peppers, potato, and eggplant. The tomato is native to Central, South, and southern North America from Mexico to Argentina. It is a perennial, often grown outdoors in temperate climates as an annual, typically reaching to 1–3 m (3 to 10 ft) in height, with a weak, woody stem that often vines over other plants. The leaves are 10–25 cm long, odd pinnate, with 5–9 leaflets on petioles, each leaflet up to 8 cm long, with a serrated margin; both the stem and leaves are densely glandular-hairy. The flowers are 1–2 cm across, yellow, with five pointed lobes on the corolla; they are borne in a cyme of 3–12 together. The word tomato derives from a word in the Nahuatl language, tomatl. The specific name, lycopersicum, means "wolf-peach" (compare the related species S. lycocarpum, whose scientific name means "wolf-fruit", common name "wolf-apple").

History and distribution

Early history

Commonly grown cultivars include:
  • 'Beefsteak VFN' (a common hybrid resistant to Verticillium, Fusarium, and Nematodes)
  • 'Big Boy' (a very common determinate garden cultivar in the United States)
  • 'Black Krim' (a purple-and-red cultivar from the Crimea)
  • 'Brandywine' (a pink, indeterminate beefsteak type with a considerable number of substrains)
  • 'Burpee VF' (an early attempt by W. Atlee Burpee at disease resistance in a commercial tomato)
  • 'Early Girl' (an early maturing globe type)
  • 'Gardener's Delight' (a smaller English cultivar)
  • 'Juliet' (a grape tomato developed as a substitute for the rare Santa F1)
  • 'Marmande' (a heavily ridged cultivar from southern France; similar to a small beefsteak and available commercially in the U.S. as UglyRipe)
  • 'Moneymaker' (an English greenhouse cultivar)
  • Mortgage Lifter (a popular heirloom beefsteak known for gigantic fruit)
  • 'Patio' (bred specifically for container gardens)
  • 'Purple Haze' (large cherry, indeterminate. Derived from Cherokee Purple, Brandywine and Black Cherry)
  • 'Roma VF' (a plum tomato common in supermarkets)
  • 'Rutgers' (a commercial heirloom cultivar)
  • 'San Marzano' (a plum tomato popular in Italy)
  • 'Santa F1' (a Chinese grape tomato cultivar popular in the U.S. and parts of southeast Asia)
  • 'Shephard's Sack' (a large variety popular in parts of Wales)
  • 'Sweet 100' (a very prolific, indeterminate cherry tomato)
  • 'Yellow Pear' (a yellow, pear-shaped heirloom cultivar)
Home Cultivars with exceptional taste include:
  • 'Aunt Ruby's German Green' (spicy green beefsteak type)
  • 'Azoykcha' (Russian yellow variety)
  • 'Andrew Rahart Jumbo Red' (red beefsteak)
  • 'Backfield' (deep red indeterminate beefsteak type)
  • 'Black Cherry' (black/brown cherry)
  • 'Box Car Willie' (red beefsteak)
  • 'Brandywine' (red beefsteak, Sudduth strain)
  • 'Cherokee Purple' (purple beefsteak)
  • 'Crnkovic Yugoslavian' (red beefsteak)
  • 'Earl’s Faux' (pink/red beefsteak)
  • 'Elbe' (orange beefsteak)
  • 'German Johnson (sweet beefsteak type)
  • 'Great Divide' (red beefsteak)
  • 'Lucky Cross' (bi-color red/orange)
  • 'Marianna’s Peace' (red beefsteak)
  • 'Mortgage Lifter' (red beefsteak, various strains)
  • 'Red Pear' (pear shaped salad cherry type with beefsteak flavor)
  • 'Rose' (very large sweet Amish beefsteak type)
  • 'Sungold' (orange cherry, not open pollinated)
An excellent source for additional varieties of homegrown cultivars is the Seed Savers Exchange.
Most modern tomato cultivars are smooth surfaced but some older tomato cultivars and most modern beefsteaks often show pronounced ribbing, a feature that may have been common to virtually all pre-Columbian cultivars. In addition, some tomato cultivars produce fruit in colors other than red, including yellow, orange, pink, black, brown, and purple, though such fruit is not widely available in grocery stores, nor are their seedlings available in typical nurseries, but must be bought as seed, often via mail-order. Likewise, some less common varieties have fuzzy skin on the fruit, as is the case with the Fuzzy Peach tomato and Red Boar tomato plants.
There is also a considerable gap between commercial and home-gardener cultivars; home cultivars are often bred for flavor to the exclusion of all other qualities, while commercial cultivars are bred for such factors as consistent size and shape, disease and pest resistance, and suitability for mechanized picking and shipping.

Diseases and pests

Tomato cultivars vary widely in their resistance to disease. Modern hybrids focus on improving disease resistance over the heirloom plants. One common tomato disease is tobacco mosaic virus, and for this reason smoking or use of tobacco products are discouraged around tomatoes, although there is some scientific debate over whether the virus could possibly survive being burned and converted into smoke. Various forms of mildew and blight are also common tomato afflictions, which is why tomato cultivars are often marked with a combination of letters which refer to specific disease resistance. The most common letters are: V - verticillium wilt, F - fusarium wilt strain I, FF - fusarium wilt strain I & II, N - nematodes, T - tobacco mosaic virus, and A - alternaria.
Another particularly dreaded disease is curly top, carried by the beet leafhopper, which interrupts the lifecycle, ruining a nightshade plant as a crop. As the name implies, it has the symptom of making the top leaves of the plant wrinkle up and grow abnormally.


Tomatoes are often picked unripe (and thus green) and ripened in storage with ethylene. Ethylene is a hydrocarbon gas produced by many fruits that acts as the molecular cue to begin the ripening process. Tomatoes ripened in this way tend to keep longer but have poorer flavor and a mealier, starchier texture than tomatoes ripened on the plant. They may be recognized by their color, which is more pink or orange than the other ripe tomatoes' deep red.
In 1994 Calgene introduced a genetically modified tomato called the 'FlavrSavr' which could be vine ripened without compromising shelf life. However, the product was not commercially successful (see main article for details) and was only sold until 1997.
Recently, stores have begun selling "tomatoes on the vine", which are determinate varieties that are ripened or harvested with the fruits still connected to a piece of vine. These tend to have more flavor than artificially ripened tomatoes (at a price premium), but still may not be the equal of local garden produce.
Slow-ripening cultivars of tomato have been developed by crossing a non-ripening cultivar with ordinary tomato cultivars. Cultivars were selected whose fruits have a long shelf life and at least reasonable flavor.


Most tomatoes today are picked before fully ripe. They are bred to continue ripening, but the enzyme that ripens tomatoes stops working when it reaches temperatures below 12.5 °C (54.5 °F). Once an unripe tomato drops below that temperature, it will not continue to ripen. Once fully ripe, tomatoes can be stored in the refrigerator but are best kept and eaten at room temperature. Tomatoes stored in the refrigerator tend to lose flavor, but will still be edible; thus the "Never Refrigerate" stickers sometimes placed on tomatoes in supermarkets.

Botanical description

Tomato plants are vines, initially decumbent, typically growing six feet or more above the ground if supported, although erect bush varieties have been bred, generally three feet tall or shorter. It is a "tender" perennial, dying annually in temperate climates (to which it is not native). Tomato plants are dicots, and grow as a series of branching stems, with a terminal bud at the tip that does the actual growing. When that tip eventually stops growing, whether because of pruning or flowering, lateral buds take over and grow into other, fully functional, vines.
Tomato plant vines are typically pubescent, meaning covered with fine short hairs. These hairs facilitate the vining process, turning into roots wherever the plant is in contact with the ground and moisture, especially if there is some issue with the vine's contact to its original root.
Tomato plants generally have compound leaves, known as Regular Leaf (RL) plants. Some cultivars, though, have simple leaves known as potato leaf (PL) style because of their resemblance to that close cousin. Of regular leaves, there are variations, such as rugose leaves, which are deeply grooved, angora leaves, which are pubescent (hairy), and variegated, which have additional colors where a genetic flaw excludes chlorophyll from the leaves.
Their flowers, appearing on the apical meristem, have the anthers fused along the edges, forming a column surrounded by the pistil's style. These tend to be self-fertilizing. This is because they are native to the Americas; all plants from the New World evolved without honeybees (which are native to the old world, only), and have other specific means of fertilization. This, of course, does not take into account pollinators including flies, butterflies, moths and other insects as well as any other external force that would take the pollen from one flower to another that were present in the "new world" and would make it possible for some new world plants to originally require biotic pollination.
Its fruit is classified, botanically, as a berry. As a true fruit, it develops from the ovary of the plant after fertilization, its flesh comprising the pericarp walls. The fruit contains hollow spaces full of seeds and moisture, called locular cavities. These vary, among cultivated species, according to type. Some smaller tomatoes have two cavities, globe-shaped typically have three to five, and beefsteak having a great number of smaller ones, while paste tomatoes have very few, very small cavities.
The seeds need to come from a mature fruit, and be dried/fermented before germination.

Nutritional aspects

Tomatoes are rich in vitamin C and contain lycopene as well as small amounts of nicotine.

Myths of the tomato

There are many legends about the tomato. For example, it has been claimed that tomatoes were not widely eaten in the U.S. until the late 1800s. It has sometimes been claimed that tomatoes were considered aphrodisiacs and so were shunned by the Puritans. Other claims center on the supposed fear that tomatoes were poisonous, based on the fact that they belong to the Solanales Order, or "Nightshade" family, which contains many toxic plants. Many legends also maintain that the tomato was introduced into the U.S. from South America by one particular person; Thomas Jefferson is sometimes mentioned.
Tomatoes' status as an aphrodisiac may be due to a mistranslation. Legend has it a Frenchman on his travels ate a meal with tomatoes in it and was fascinated with the new taste. He went back to the chef, who was Italian, and asked him what this new ingredient was. The chef said "Pomme de Maure" (Apple of the Moors), but the Frenchman misunderstood and thought he said "Pomme d'amour" (apple of love). The modern Italian word for tomato however is "pomodoro", which means "golden apple". However Spanish importation from the New World may explain the connection to the Moors.
In the United States, the most famous legend of this sort was introduced by Joseph S. Sickler in the mid-1900s, and became the subject of a CBS broadcast of You Are There in 1949. The story goes that the lingering doubts about the safety of the tomato in the United States were largely put to rest in 1820, when Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson announced that at noon on September 26, he would eat a basket of tomatoes in front of the Salem, New Jersey courthouse. Reportedly, a crowd of more than 2,000 persons gathered in front of the courthouse to watch the poor man die after eating the poisonous fruits, and were shocked when he lived. In his book Smith notes that there is little, if any, historical evidence for any of these legends, and that they continue to be repeated largely because they are entertaining stories.
It is also said that the tomato became popular in France during the French Revolution, because the revolutionaries' iconic color was red; and at one point it was suggested that they should eat red food as a show of loyalty. Since European royalty was still leery of the nightshade-related tomato, it apparently was the perfect choice. This may also be why the first reported use of the tomato in the U.S. was in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1812, because of the French influence in that region.
There is also a story which claims that an agent for Britain attempted to kill General George Washington by feeding him a dish laced with tomatoes during the American Revolution.
"Tomato" also has been used as a slang word for an attractive woman. This use was most common from the 1920s through the 1940s, and only within the USA.


Botanical classification

In 1753 the tomato was placed in the genus Solanum by Linnaeus as Solanum lycopersicum L. (derivation, 'lyco', wolf, plus 'persicum', peach, i.e., "wolf-peach"). However, in 1768 Philip Miller placed it in its own genus, and he named it Lycopersicon esculentum. This name came into wide use but was in breach of the plant naming rules. Technically, the combination Lycopersicon lycopersicum (L.) H.Karst. would be more correct, but this name (published in 1881) has hardly ever been used. Therefore, it was decided to conserve the well-known Lycopersicon esculentum, making this the correct name for the tomato when it is placed in the genus Lycopersicon.
However, genetic evidence (e.g., Peralta & Spooner 2001) has now shown that Linnaeus was correct in the placement of the tomato in the genus Solanum, making the Linnaean name correct; if Lycopersicon is excluded from Solanum, Solanum is left as a paraphyletic taxon. Despite this, it is likely that the exact taxonomic placement of the tomato will be controversial for some time to come, with both names found in the literature.
The Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research began sequencing the tomato genome in 2004 and is creating a database of genomic sequences and information on the tomato and related plants. A draft version of the full genome expected to be published by 2008. The genomes of its organelles (mitochondria and chloroplast) are also expected to be published as part of the project.

Fruit or vegetable?

Botanically, a tomato is the ovary, together with its seeds, of a flowering plant: therefore it is a fruit or, more precisely, a berry. However, the tomato is not as sweet as those foodstuffs usually called fruits and, from a culinary standpoint, it is typically served as part of a salad or main course of a meal, as are vegetables, rather than at dessert, as are fruits. As noted above, the term "vegetable" has no botanical meaning and is purely a culinary term.
This argument has had legal implications in the United States. In 1887, U.S. tariff laws that imposed a duty on vegetables but not on fruits caused the tomato's status to become a matter of legal importance. The U.S. Supreme Court settled the controversy in 1893 by declaring that the tomato is a vegetable, based on the popular definition that classifies vegetables by use, that they are generally served with dinner and not dessert (Nix v. Hedden (149 U.S. 304)). The holding of the case applies only to the interpretation of the Tariff Act of March 3, 1883, and the court did not purport to reclassify the tomato for botanical or other purposes other than paying a tax under a tariff act.
The tomato has been designated the state vegetable of New Jersey. Arkansas took both sides by declaring the "South Arkansas Vine Ripe Pink Tomato" to be both the state fruit and the state vegetable in the same law, citing both its botanical and culinary classifications. In 2006, the Ohio House of Representatives passed a law that would have declared the tomato to be the official state fruit, but the bill died when the Ohio Senate failed to act on it. Tomato juice has been the official beverage of Ohio since 1965. A.W. Livingston, of Reynoldsburg, Ohio played a large part in popularizing the tomato in the late 1800s.
Due to the scientific definition of a fruit, the tomato remains a fruit when not dealing with US tariffs. Nor is it the only culinary vegetable that is a botanical fruit: eggplants, cucumbers, and squashes of all kinds (such as zucchini and pumpkins) share the same ambiguity.


The pronunciation of tomato differs in different English-speaking countries; the two most common variants are /təˈmɑːtəʊ/ and /təˈmeɪtoʊ/. Speakers from the British Isles, most of the Commonwealth, and older generations among speakers of Southern American English typically say /təˈmɑːtəʊ/, while most American and Canadian speakers usually say /təˈmeɪtoʊ/. Most or all languages, apart from American English, have a word that corresponds more to the former pronunciation, including the original Nahuatl word "tomatl" from which they are all taken.
The word's dual pronunciations were immortalized in Ira and George Gershwin's 1937 song "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" (You like /pəˈteɪtoʊ/ and I like /pəˈtɑːtəʊ/ / You like /təˈmeɪtoʊ/ and I like /təˈmɑːtəʊ/) and have become a symbol for nitpicking pronunciation disputes. In this capacity it has even become an American and British slang term: saying /təˈmeɪtoʊ, təˈmɑːtəʊ/ when presented with two choices can mean "What's the difference?" or "It's all the same to me."


On October 30, 2006 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that tomatoes might be the source of a salmonella outbreak causing 172 illnesses in 18 states The affected states include Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, Vermont and Wisconsin. Tomatoes have been linked to seven salmonella outbreaks since 1990 (from the Food Safety Network).

Tomato records

The heaviest tomato ever was one of 3.51 kg (7 lb 12 oz), of the cultivar 'Delicious', grown by Gordon Graham of Edmond, Oklahoma in 1986. The largest tomato plant grown was of the cultivar 'Sungold' and reached 19.8 m (65 ft) length, grown by Nutriculture Ltd (UK) of Mawdesley, Lancashire, UK, in 2000.
The massive "tomato tree" growing inside the Walt Disney World Resort's experimental greenhouses in Lake Buena Vista, Florida may be the largest single tomato plant in the world. The plant has been recognized as a Guinness World Record Holder, with a harvest of more than 32,000 tomatoes and a total weight of 1,151.84 pounds. This one-of-a-kind plant yields thousands of tomatoes at one time from a single vine. Yong Huang, Epcot's manager of agricultural science discovered the unique plant in Beijing, China. Huang brought its seeds to Epcot and created the specialized greenhouse for the fruit to grow. The vine grows golf ball-sized tomatoes which are served at Walt Disney World restaurants. The world record-setting tomato tree can be seen by guests along the Living With the Land boat ride at Epcot.
On August 30, 2007, 40,000 Spaniards gathered in Buñol to throw 115,000 kilograms of tomatoes at each other in the yearly Tomatina festival. Bare-chested tourists also included hundreds of British, French and Germans.

See also


  • Smith, A. F. (1994). The Tomato in America. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-07009-7.
  • Peralta, I. E. & Spooner, D. M. (2001). Granule-bound starch synthase (Gbssi) gene phylogeny of wild tomatoes (Solanum L. section Lycopersicon Mill. Wettst. Subsection Lycopersicon). American Journal of Botany 88 (10): 1888–1902 (available online).


External links

tomatoes in Old English (ca. 450-1100): Tomato
tomatoes in Arabic: طماطم
tomatoes in Asturian: Tomate
tomatoes in Azerbaijani: Pomidor
tomatoes in Min Nan: Kam-á-bi̍t
tomatoes in Belarusian: Таматы
tomatoes in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Памідоры
tomatoes in Bosnian: Paradajz
tomatoes in Bulgarian: Домат
tomatoes in Catalan: Tomàquet
tomatoes in Czech: Rajče jedlé
tomatoes in Welsh: Tomato
tomatoes in Danish: Tomat
tomatoes in German: Tomate
tomatoes in Estonian: Tomat
tomatoes in Modern Greek (1453-): Τομάτα
tomatoes in Spanish: Solanum lycopersicum
tomatoes in Esperanto: Tomato
tomatoes in Basque: Tomate
tomatoes in Persian: گوجه فرنگی
tomatoes in French: Tomate
tomatoes in Galician: Tomate
tomatoes in Kazakh: Қызанақ
tomatoes in Korean: 토마토
tomatoes in Hindi: टमाटर
tomatoes in Croatian: Rajčica
tomatoes in Iloko: Kamatis
tomatoes in Indonesian: Tomat
tomatoes in Inuktitut: ᒥᓗᑦᓱᑳᒐᖅ/milutsukaagaq
tomatoes in Ossetian: Пъамидор
tomatoes in Icelandic: Tómatur
tomatoes in Italian: Solanum lycopersicum
tomatoes in Hebrew: עגבנייה
tomatoes in Pampanga: Kamatis
tomatoes in Kannada: ಟೊಮೇಟೊ
tomatoes in Haitian: Tomat
tomatoes in Latin: Lycopersicum
tomatoes in Lithuanian: Pomidoras
tomatoes in Lingala: Tomáti
tomatoes in Hungarian: Paradicsom (növény)
tomatoes in Malayalam: തക്കാളി
tomatoes in Malay (macrolanguage): Pokok Tomato
tomatoes in Dutch: Tomaat
tomatoes in Japanese: トマト
tomatoes in Neapolitan: Pummarola
tomatoes in Norwegian: Tomat
tomatoes in Occitan (post 1500): Tomata
tomatoes in Polish: Pomidor zwyczajny
tomatoes in Portuguese: Tomate
tomatoes in Romanian: Roşie
tomatoes in Quechua: Chilltu
tomatoes in Russian: Томат
tomatoes in Albanian: Domatja
tomatoes in Sicilian: Pumadoru
tomatoes in Simple English: Tomato
tomatoes in Slovenian: Paradižnik
tomatoes in Serbian: Парадајз
tomatoes in Finnish: Tomaatti
tomatoes in Swedish: Tomat
tomatoes in Tagalog: Kamatis
tomatoes in Tamil: தக்காளி
tomatoes in Telugu: టమాటో
tomatoes in Thai: มะเขือเทศ
tomatoes in Vietnamese: Cà chua
tomatoes in Tonga (Tonga Islands): Temata
tomatoes in Turkish: Domates
tomatoes in Ukrainian: Помідор
tomatoes in Yiddish: טאמאטע
tomatoes in Contenese: 番茄
tomatoes in Samogitian: Tuomats
tomatoes in Chinese: 番茄
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1