15 Fun Facts About Tomatoes
Last updated on September 30, 2011
- The tomato is a member of the nightshade family of plants, which also includes eggplant, goji berries, potatoes, and chili peppers.
- It is a vegetable, though it is often mistaken for a fruit.
- Tomatoes are native to South America, with the earliest ancestors of the plant coming from Peru.
- The tomato was grown by the Aztecs and was called xitomatl (“plump thing with a navel”).
- The Aztecs made what may be the first salsa – tomatoes prepared with peppers, corn, and salt.
- Ever heard of a wolf peach? That’s what the tomato’s scientific name, lycopersicon lycopersicum, means.
- The first mention of the tomato in European literature was by Italian physician and botanist Pietro Andrea Mattioli. He wrote about it in his 1544 herbal and called it a pomo d’oro (“golden apple”).
- John Gerard wrote about the tomato in Gerard’s Herbal of 1597. He believed that it was poisonous even though he knew that it was eaten in Italy and Spain. Because of this, the tomato was considered for many years to be poisonous by many people in Britain and the first North American colonies.
- The tomato itself may not be poisonous, but tomato leaves and stems definitely are. In fact, the leaves and stems of all plants in the nightshade family are poisonous because they contain atropine and other toxic tropane alkaloids. Unripe, green tomatoes also contain small amounts of these toxins so they should never be eaten raw (but fried green tomatoes are okay!)
- By the mid to late 1700s, tomatoes were no longer believed to be poisonous and were in daily use in Britain.
- In the 18th century, tomatoes were cultivated in what is now South Carolina.
- The tomato was introduced to the Middle east in the mid-19th century.
- During the 19th century, it was common practice to throw rotten tomatoes at bad performers during stage performances.
- China is the world’s largest producer of tomatoes, while the United States is the world’s second largest tomato producer.
- In 2008, about 125 million tons of tomatoes were produced worldwide.