Special Feature

What is a Tomato?


A tomato is the fruit of the tomato plant, a vine which in its wild state is a resilient perennial with an indefinite life span that can grow as tall as a telephone pole or as wide as a row of Cadillacs. It is a member of the nightshade or Solanaceae family, a cousin of the eggplant, pepper, potato, ground cherry, tomatillo, and the highly toxic belladonna, also known as deadly nightshade. All tomatoes belong to the genus Lycopersicon, which means "wolf peach".

Tomatoes come in a variety of sizes, colors, and textures. Tiny currant tomatoes—red or yellow—are best eaten right off the vine or used as garnish. Cherry tomatoes—white, pink, pale yellow, bright orange, deep red, or green—are ideal raw in salads and salsas, grilled on skewers, or cooked simply as a side dish. Larger cherry tomatoes with a low percentage of water make delicious dried tomatoes. Plum tomatoes are well-suited for sauces, soups, stews, jams, and chutneys, and, because of their dense flesh, for drying. Slicing tomatoes, which include everything from the intensely-flavored stupice, about 2—2 1/2" in diameter, to the often enormous beefsteak and oxheart tomatoes (heirloom varieties currently enjoying a renaissance) are ideal for slicing as well as for salsas, sauces, and soups, although they often need draining or longer cooking because of their high water content.


Copyright 1996 by Michele Anna Jordan, author of The Good Cook's Book of Tomatoes. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.


The Good Cook's Online Guide to Tomatoes

Tomato Recipes


Check out Michele Anna Jordan's latest book: The World Is a Kitchen: Cooking Your Way Through Culture

This Archived Page created between 1994 and 2001. Modified August 2007