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Lycopersicon lycopersicum

Photo courtesy of Horticulture New Zealand


There’s nothing quite like a fresh, sun-ripened tomato at the height of summer. Tomatoes have a place in almost any meal, and they’re one of the best arguments for eating in-season produce – out of season they’re just not worth it. Canned tomatoes will do in a pinch, but they’re not suitable for all uses.

Tomatoes commonly come in several shapes and sizes, from the oval-shaped Roma to tiny yellow cherry tomatoes, but they can all be used interchangeably, and mixing up the colours and shapes makes the meal look as good as it tastes. They’re botanically a fruit, but we’ve placed them in the vegetable section as that’s how they’re normally used.

Tomatoes are well known for being a source of lycopene, a carotenoid that has antioxidant properties and may help prevent some types of cancer. Research into this is still in its early phases, however. Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K, contain a good amount of minerals such as iron, potassium, and manganese, and are high in fibre and folate.

Choose tomatoes that are reasonably firm but brightly coloured – too soft and they’re overripe. They should just give slightly when you press them gently. Avoid any with bruises or soft, weeping spots.

Never store tomatoes in the fridge – they don’t do well in the cold and it will lessen their flavour and texture. Store them at room temperature and out of direct sunlight. If you’ve bought any that are slightly underripe, you can speed up their ripening by putting them with bananas.



Tomatoes originate from South America, and made their way round the world after the Spanish colonised the Americas. Because it easily grew in Mediterranean climates, it quickly became a favourite in those countries, and even now is most strongly associated with the food of Italy and Greece.

For a long time the tomato was believed to be poisonous, being a member of the nightshade family (along with eggplant and capsicum), and it was grown mainly as an ornamental plant in several European countries. Its reputation for being poisonous may have also come from the pewter plates people ate from – the acid in the tomatoes caused the lead to leach out.


In summer, the uses for tomatoes are limited only by how much you want to eat them. Ripe, vine-ripened tomatoes make a stunning salad with basil, salt and pepper and fresh mozzarella.

Tomatoes also go very well with fish. Chop several peeled tomatoes and mix with a couple of crushed garlic cloves, fresh parsley, salt and pepper and olive oil. Spread over fish in a baking dish, top with fresh toasted breadcrumbs, and bake until the fish is cooked.

To peel tomatoes, the easiest way is to place them in a bowl and cover them with boiling water. Leave for a couple of minutes, remove them with a slotted spoon and when cooled slightly the skins should slip off.


If you’re growing tomatoes (and you should try it at least once), plant basil next to them. These two are the ultimate companion plants: they share the same soil requirements, with their powers combined they help to ward off pests, and they taste perfect together.

In Buñol, Spain, they celebrate ‘La Tomatina’ – a festival that centres around a massive tomato fight in the town square.

Turnips »« Taro


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