It’s very hot this year, which means tomatoes will soon be running amok in my garden and kitchen. This sounds funny if you know me.  I don’t love tomatoes and will pluck them off my plate unless they are fresh or the sauce comes from tomatoes that I know ripened here and now. It’s a first world burden that comes from growing up with a large garden. Nothing quite compares to fresh, off-the-vine tomatoes.

Are tomatoes a fruit or vegetable?
Fruit. Tomatoes have of habit of hanging out in both the vegetable and fruit category in stores, garden centers and cookbooks, but to be botanically correct they are a fruit. Yes, just take a look at those slippery seed clusters that reveal their true identity. Like other fruits, they develop from the ovaries of flowers. However, they are most often listed in the vegetable category as they don’t share the sweetness and high sugar content of other fruits.

A little tomato history
Native to South America and Central America, the Aztecs had been eating tomatoes for centuries, long before the Spaniards showed up in Central America. History tends to credit Cortez with the discovery of tomatoes in 1519 when he found them growing in Montezuma’s gardens. He returned to Europe triumphantly with his new seeds. The first tomatoes to arrive in Europe were likely small and yellow in color which is why the Italians and Spanish referred to them as pomi d’oro (yellow apples).

However, the Europeans were skeptical of the shiny new food and assuming them poisonous they planted the tomatoes as ornamentals. The French botanists, Tournefort, would provide tomatoes with their botanical name – lycopersicon esculentum – meaning wolfpeach, as he, too, believed they were poisonous. It would take a few years before some brave European would bite into a tomato – and surprise – live. Soon after, European’s love affair with tomatoes began. In fact, the French so revered the tomato for its perceived aphrodisiac qualities that they called it pommes d’amour (love apples). They made their way back to the “new world” and have been in American’s diets ever since. Today, heirloom varieties are making a comeback and people aren’t as attached to tomatoes being perfectly round and red shape. They come in purples, reds, golds, and greens and their flavors are a refreshing change from the flat, overproduced commercial varieties.

Western nutritional highlights of tomatoes

Tomatoes are antioxidant stars, offering protection against cancers including breast, colon, lung, endometrial and pancreatic cancers. Red and deep purple tomatoes are high in lycopene, a flavonoid that helps protect the skin from UV rays and skin cancers. Tomatoes have high levels of vitamin A, α and ß-carotenes, xanthins and lutein which play roles in healthy skin, bones and mucus membranes. They are an excellent source of vitamin C, another anti-aging, cancer-fighting, immune boosting vitamin. Tomatoes are also rich in potassium which is important for regulating the heart and blood pressure. They contain minor amounts of the B vitamins such as folate, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin. A few essential minerals pop up too, including calcium, magnesium, iron and manganese. Additionally, tomatoes are a very low calorie food, offering a mere 18 calories per about 100 grams. They have little if any fat and no cholesterol.

Asian energetics of tomatoes

Applying the principles and theories of Asian (Chinese medicine) medicine gives us a different view of tomatoes as a healing food. This is essentially the thermodynamics of a food – how does it effect on the body after eaten it?

Cooling thermal nature and Yin nourishing
Tomatoes have a cooling temperature. When you cool, you replenish fluids and quell fire (either true excess fire or Yin deficiency causing heat) making them great to clear out summer’s excess heat or counter Yin deficiency patterns like hot flashes. They relieve dryness and quench thirst. Check out more on Summer foods.

Tomatoes have a Sweet flavor and enter the Earth organs
They nourish the Earth element and its organs the Stomach and Spleen. Tomatoes nourish the Stomach by increasing digestion and absorption of nutrients, making them useful in the treatment of anemia and poor appetite conditions. They can also help counter acid reflux and GERD.

Tomatoes have a Sour flavor and enter the Wood organs
The sour flavor awakens the Wood element and invigorates the Liver and Gall Bladder. They cool Liver Fire and Heat patterns like anger, aggression, red eyes, high pitched ringing in the ears and headaches. Tomatoes can also cool Gall Bladder heat patterns like hepatitis, mono, hives and shingles. And tomatoes help to cleanse and purify the blood.

Wonderful – yummy, delightful tomatoes. Stew them, grill them, slice them fresh, make them into soup, salsa, sauces, pastes and conserves.

The trouble with tomatoes – a few concerns for a food with a strong personality
“Aren’t tomatoes bad?”

It’s a question I hear about many foods. Real foods aren’t “bad” but they may not be right for our body in its current condition. Tomatoes are a member of the solanacae (deadly nightshade) family. This automatically puts them in the allergy sensitivity category and should be used with caution or avoided by those with painful obstruction syndrome (POS) and inflammatory patterns. When overeaten by those with chronic inflammatory conditions they can causes aches, pains and swelling. Go easy on tomatoes if you have arthritis, MS, fibromyalgia or other chronic inflammatory diseases or a weak immune system.

Tomatoes and pesticides
Tomatoes are thinned skinned, and commercial varieties are heavily sprayed with pesticides–they soak up the chemicals like a sponge. Choose to get your tomatoes organic, local, vine ripened and free of pesticides. Seek out the heirloom varieties which are less likely to be chemically tampered with…at present.

Tomatoes exacerbate stones
Tomatoes are high in oxalates. If you are presently on a low oxalate diet because of gall bladder or kidney stones watch your consumption of tomatoes.

Eat well!