The tomato has been an integral part of the world’s diet for over two centuries and is now the most used fruit in international gastronomy. It is essential for Italian and Mexican cuisines. Domestication and exportation of the tomato began here and now Mexico rules the international tomato market.
The tomato started 2,600 years ago in South America’s Andes mountains in present day Peru and Ecuador, but it was considered a weed then by local farmers. About 2,100 years later, the tomato was cultivated on small islands and domesticated with intent in Mexico.
The green tomato, which is still used in many Mexican sauces, was used in pre-Hispanic cuisine. The tomato also was used by indigenous people to relieve sore throats, headaches, digestive problems, ear pain and mumps.
Inquisition-Era Mexico found the Spaniards introducing the tomato to the rest of world. Thanks to the warmth of
the Mediterranean soil, tomato cultivation prospered and within two decades the tomato started appearing in Italian cookbooks, first paired with eggplant.
Unlike chili peppers, the tomato had a sweet taste and was not as hot, which is why this fruit was quickly adopted by Europeans and Africans alike. Once Europeans decided the tomato wasn’t poisonous, it found its way into many daily menus.
During the 17th century, some variant of the Nahuatl name tomatl (meaning fruit with a navel) rapidly became the fruit’s name world-wide.
By the time of Mexico’s Independence, haciendas had created irrigated production systems that, combined with railroad transportation, integrated the different farming regions to increase both the tomato’s production and export.
Today, large-scale irrigation systems with the use of chemicals and fertilizers control a tomato’s ripening time and shelf life, making Mexico the leading global exporter. Over half of the tomatoes in U.S. grocery stores come from Mexico.
Acknowledged benefits of the tomato are:
- Contains vitamins A, B1, B2 and C.
- Contains minerals, such as calcium, potassium and sodium.
- Contributes to fighting liver diseases, obesity and various forms of cancer.
- Provides excellent hangover relief.
- Detoxifies the skin and organs.
- Provides a natural source of folic acid, which is recommended during pregnancy.
So, the next time you are enjoying salsa and chips and sprinkle on some green sauce to watch the cult classic, “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” remember that you would not have had tomatoes if it hadn’t been for Mexico.