Interesting Facts About Tomatoes

— Written By Donna Teasley and last updated by
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Tomato Series – Article Two

Tomatoes are an interesting crop. Folks used to think they were poisonous-can you imagine that? Originating in Peru they were taken to Mexico where explorers found them in the 1400s and introduced them to Europe. They first came to the U.S in the early 1800s but were not eaten because they were rumored to be poisonous. For many years they were simply grown because they were pretty!

In the 1600s the French named the tomato “pomme d’amour” or love apple because they believed it had aphrodisiac properties. Aphrodisiac or not, the American public has developed a love affair with the tomato. Each American eats an average of 22-24 pounds of tomatoes per year. It is most often consumed as catsup or tomato sauce and 13 percent of all Americans grow tomatoes in a garden.

China is the largest producer of tomatoes with the U.S. coming in at number 2, followed by Turkey, India, and Egypt. California is the leader in processed tomatoes (96%) and Florida is number 1 in fresh tomato production.

The USDA reports that there are 25,000 varieties of tomatoes in the world. The heaviest tomato ever grown was in Oklahoma in 1986. Weighing in at 7 lbs. 12 oz., it was sliced and made into 21 tomato sandwiches in the U.S.

Now to the biggest question: Is it a fruit or a vegetable? Botanically, the tomato is a fruit but in 1893 the Supreme Court ruled that the tomato would be classified as a vegetable so that it could be taxed under tariff law. I guess money trumps science!

That’s it for today. Whether you eat tomatoes in the form of catsup as a French fry condiment, consider it to be a necessary ingredient in salsa or can’t wait for that first tomato sandwich of the season that has to made with Duke’s mayonnaise and white bread, the tomato has an interesting and colorful history. Perhaps that aphrodisiac thing isn’t so very far-fetched after all!