The tomato is a herbaceous, usually sprawling plant in the Solanaceae or nightshade family, as are its close cousins potatoes, chili peppers, tobacco, eggplant and the poisonous belladonna. It is a perennial, often grown outdoors in temperate climates as an annual. Typically reaching to 1-3 metres (3-10 ft) in height, it has a weak, woody stem that often vines over other plants. The leaves are 10-25 centimetres (4-10 in) long, odd pinnate, with 5-9 leaflets on petioles, each leaflet up to 8 centimetres (3 in) long, with a serrated margin; both the stem and leaves are densely glandular-hairy. The flowers are 1-2 centimetres (0.4-0.8 in) across, yellow, with five pointed lobes on the corolla; they are borne in a cyme of 3-12 together.
The tomato is native to South America. Genetic evidence shows that the progenitors of tomatoes were herbaceous green plants with small green fruit with a center of diversity in the highlands of Peru. These early Solanums diversified into the dozen or so species of tomato recognized today. One species, Solanum lycopersicum, was transported to Mexico where it was grown and consumed by prehistoric humans. The exact date of domestication is not known. Evidence supports the theory the first domesticated tomato was a little yellow fruit, ancestor of L. cerasiforme, grown by the Aztecs of Central Mexico who called it "xitomatl", meaning plump thing with a navel, and later called tomatl by other Mesoamerican peoples. Aztec writings mention tomatoes were prepared with peppers, corn and salt, likely to be the original salsa recipe.
Some people believe that the Spanish explorer Cortez may have been the first to transfer the small yellow tomato to Europe after he captured the Aztec city of Tenochtítlan , now Mexico City in 1521. Yet others believe Christopher Columbus, an Italian working for the Spanish monarchy, discovered the tomato earlier in 1493. The earliest discussion of the tomato in European literature appeared in an herbal written in 1544 by Pietro Andrea Mattioli, an Italian physician and botanist, who named it pomi d'oro, golden apple.
The word tomato comes from a word in the Nahuatl language, tomatl. The specific name, lycopersicum, means "wolf-peach" (compare the related species Solanum lycocarpum, whose scientific name means "wolf-fruit", common name "wolf-apple"), as they are a major food of wild canids in South America.
History of Tomato
Aztecs and other peoples in the region used the tomato in their cooking; it was being cultivated in southern Mexico and probably other areas by 500BC. It is thought that the Pueblo people believed that those who witnessed the ingestion of tomato seeds were blessed with powers of divination. The large, lumpy tomato, a mutation from a smoother, smaller fruit, originated and was encouraged in Mesoamerica. Smith states this variant is the direct ancestor of some modern cultivated tomatoes.
Two modern tomato cultivar groups, one represented by the Matt's Wild Cherry tomato, the other by currant tomatoes, originate by recent domestication of the wild tomato plants apparently native to eastern Mexico.
After the Spanish colonization of the Americas, the Spanish distributed the tomato throughout their colonies in the Caribbean. They also took it to the Philippines, whence it moved to southeast Asia and then the entire Asian continent. The Spanish also brought the tomato to Europe. It grew easily in Mediterranean climates, and cultivation began in the 1540s. It was probably eaten shortly after it was introduced, and was certainly being used as food by the early 1600s in Spain. The earliest discovered cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692, though the author had apparently obtained these recipes from Spanish sources. However, in certain areas of Italy, such as Florence, the fruit was used solely as tabletop decoration before it was incorporated into the local cuisine in the late 17th or early 18th century.
Tomatoes were not grown in England until the 1590s, according to Smith. One of the earliest cultivators was John Gerard, a barber-surgeon. Gerard's Herbal, published in 1597 and largely plagiarized from continental sources, is also one of the earliest discussions of the tomato in England. Gerard knew that the tomato was eaten in Spain and Italy. Nonetheless, he believed that it was poisonous (tomato leaves and stems actually contain poisonous glycoalkaloids, but the fruit is safe). Gerard's views were influential, and the tomato was considered unfit for eating (though not necessarily poisonous) for many years in Britain and its North American colonies.
But by the mid-1700s, tomatoes were widely eaten in Britain; and before the end of that century, the Encyclopedia Britannica stated that the tomato was "in daily use" in soups, broths, and as a garnish. In Victorian times, cultivation reached an industrial scale in glasshouses, most famously in Worthing. Pressure for housing land in the 1930s to 1960s saw the industry move west to Littlehampton, and to the market gardens south of Chichester. Over the past 15 years, the British tomato industry has declined as more competitive imports from Spain and the Netherlands have reached the supermarkets.
The tomato was introduced to cultivation in the Middle East by John Barker, British consul in Aleppo c. 1799 - c. 1825 Nineteenth century descriptions of its consumption are uniformly as an ingredient in a cooked dish. In 1881 it is described as only eaten in the region, "within the last forty years."
The tomato entered Iran through two separate routes. One route was through Turkey and Armenia and the second route was through the Qajar royal family's frequent travels to France. The early name used for tomato in Iran was "Armani Badenjan" (Armenian Eggplant). The Spanish tomato dish, Paella, is called "Istanbuli Polao" (Istanbul Pilaf) by Iranians. Currently, the name used for tomato in Iran is "Gojeh Farangi" (French Plum).