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You Say Tomato...Unique Facts Regarding this Remarkable Food

Written by Lisa Jillanza

Until the 1800s, tomatoes were considered toxic, but since then tomatoes have been a staple of many people's diet, and rightfully so , whether you consider it a vegetable or a fruit, it is very beneficial.

Besides containing 40 percent of your daily value of vitamin C, it also contains 15 percent of your daily value of vitamin A, 8 percent of your daily value of potassium, and 7 percent of your recommended dietary allowance of iron for women and 10 percent for men. In addition as a source of fiber, one medium tomato equals one slice of whole wheat bread with only 35 calories.

According to Homecooking.about.com, Lycopene, a dietary carotenoid found in high concentrations in tomatoes as well as processed tomato products, including ketchup and canned tomato products, is what gives tomatoes their red pigment. It is an antioxidant which purportedly fights the free radicals that can interfere with normal cell growth and activity. These free radicals can potentially lead to cancer, heart disease and premature aging.

A recent study has also shown that men who eat at least 10 servings of tomatoes a week can reduce their risk of developing prostate cancer by a whopping 45 percent.

The tomato is native to western South America and Central America. In 1519, Cortez discovered tomatoes growing in Montezuma's gardens and brought seeds back to Europe where they were planted as ornamental curiosities, but not eaten. A member of the deadly nightshade family, tomatoes were erroneously thought to be poisonous (although the leaves are poisonous) by Europeans who were suspicious of their bright, shiny fruit.

The French referred to the tomato as pommes d'amour, or love apples, as they thought them to have stimulating aphrodisiacal properties. Centuries later in 1897, soup mogul Joseph Campbell came out with condensed tomato soup, a move that set the company on the road to wealth as well as further endearing the tomato to the general public.

There are thousands of varieties of tomatoes in an array of shapes, colors and sizes. The most common shapes are round (Beefsteak and globe), pear-shaped (Roma) and the tiny cherry-sized (Cherry and Grape). Yellow varieties tend to be less acidic and thus less flavorful than their red counterparts. In the United States today, tomatoes are second in consumption only to potatoes.

When choosing the perfect tomato, use your nose. Smell the blossom (not the stem) end. The most flavorful ones will have a rich tomato aroma. Also be sure to choose one with a brilliant shade of red, as those tomatoes contain more betacarotene and lycopene giving you the most vitamins and minerals. Store fresh ripe tomatoes in a cool dark place, making sure it's stem-side down and use within a few days.