Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Cooking and Produce
Melissa Bess, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Camden County, University of Missouri Extension
Tomatoes are one of the most readily available and versatile vegetables. Or is it a fruit?
Nutritionally and culinary-wise, tomatoes are considered a vegetable because of the way they are used and their nutrients. Botanically speaking, tomatoes are more similar to a fruit. Either way, this fruit/vegetable is high in nutrients and easy to use in many dishes.
Tomatoes are high in vitamin C, which is an antioxidant that is good for our skin, helps with healing and helps gums stay healthy. Foods with vitamin C also help the body absorb iron, so tomatoes are a favorite paired with meat or plant foods with iron. Tomatoes also have potassium which helps lower blood pressure, magnesium which is good for bone health, and fiber.
Lycopene is another nutrient found in tomatoes. This antioxidant boosts health and is especially important for prostate health for men. Processed and cooked tomato products (such as tomato paste, sauce, ketchup, salsa, etc.) have the most lycopene. The heating and processing techniques make this nutrient more readily available for the body, but heating diminishes the vitamin C content. Enjoy eating tomatoes in a variety of ways – fresh and cooked/processed – to get all the beneficial nutrients.
Tomatoes are in season from July to October, so this is when you will find the best quality and best prices. Locally produced tomatoes are a tasty favorite in the summer. You can find tomatoes year-round in grocery stores, but prices and quality will vary.
Tomatoes should be stored at room temperature for up to a week. If they are not fully ripe, they will continue to ripen at room temperature if stored out of the sun. Make sure to rinse tomatoes with water before cutting or serving.
Tomatoes are versatile; you can eat them in many different ways. Add chopped tomatoes to a salad or pizza, slice tomatoes for your sandwiches or pair with mozzarella cheese for a snack. You can make your own pasta sauce, soup or salsa using fresh tomatoes. They can be roasted in the oven or on the grill, or stuffed with anything you enjoy.
MU Extension has many guide sheets available to help you learn more about tomatoes, including:
- Growing Home Garden Tomatoes, G6461 (free pdf download) at http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G6461
- How to Can Fresh Tomatoes, GH1456 (free pdf download) at http://extension.missouri.edu/p/GH1456
- Freezing Vegetables, GH1503 (free pdf download) at http://extension.missouri.edu/p/GH1503
- Tomatoes from Harvest to Health, MP587 ($0.25 charge for the booklet) at http://extension.missouri.edu/p/MP587
- Seasonal and Simple: A Guide for Enjoying Fresh Fruits and Vegetables ($15.00 charge for the book) at http://extension.missouri.edu/p/MP909
For more information, contact Melissa Bess at 573-346-2644 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last update: Tuesday, June 26, 2012