Thursday, August 28, 2008

All Hail the Tomato!

Is it a fruit? Is it a veggie? Do we care? If you're into trivia, like me, you might be interested to hear the (potentially hypocryphal) tale about tomatoes - tomatoes were considered veggies way back in the days after Boston Harbor got steeped in tea (tomatoes were brought to the US a bit after 1800). However, veggies were taxed at a higher rate than fruit, so the sellers advocated for a legal change. Prior to that, it was generally thought of as a vegetable (according to a book which I just read, which unfortunately has seeped through the holes in my sometimes sieve-like brain, so I can't cite it for you here) - not based on scientific thought, just the common understanding.

What's the technical difference between a fruit and a vegetable? According to Ask Yahoo, fruit is defined as: "the sweet, ripened ovary or ovaries of a seed-bearing plant. A vegetable, in contrast, is an herbaceous plant cultivated for an edible part (seeds, roots, stems, leaves, bulbs, tubers, or nonsweet fruits). So, to be really nitpicky, a fruit could be a vegetable, but a vegetable could not be a fruit."

So this means that tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, avocados, peppers, pumpkins, peapods, and zucchini are fruit.

Now, in my mind, this is just wrong.

Not from a biological perspective. I fully recognize that given the definition of a fruit, these all qualify, and scientifically, these are considered fruit. So my definition of fruit is much more culturally driven. For me, fruit=sweet. Salad=vegetable.

Now I feel like I'm on the wrong side of the debate in what could be a big metaphor for evolution vs. creationism (no offense to those of you creationists, but I'm staunchly on science's side here). I'm advocating what I feel to be true as reality, and through my blog, I'm trying to impose it on others. Blech. So here's my thing - these fregetables evolved with fruit-like qualities, I'll grant you that. And if you want to call them fruits, then please be my guest, as I wouldn't impose my fruit-loving terminology upon you. But to my mind, all of these on the list are vegetables, and that's how I'll refer to them from now on.

Now that my Jupiter-sized tangent is done, let's proceed!

Tomatoes have lycopene in them, which is an antioxidant that supposedly helps to prevent prostate cancer, heart disease, and other (mysteriously vague) cancers and diseases. However, the lycopene is bound up in the cell walls, and our bodies have a hard time extracting it from raw tomatoes (source). So cooking releases the lycopene more easily into our system.

But really, is lycopene the cure-all it seems to be (is anything, ever)? One of the largest studies on cancer done by the National Cancer Institute showed that tomatoes didn't really prevent against prostate cancer, and the beta-carotene can actually increase its risk. Ensuing studies showed no link whatsoever between lycopene and prostate cancer. So the study suggests eating veggies plentifully, but not taking beta carotene supplements (if you're a guy at risk for prostate cancer. Otherwise, have at it).

Tomatoes also have tons of vitamin C (no more scurvy!), vitamin A (no more night blindness!), potassium, and a little bit of fiber (not as much as broccoli say, but more than a candy bar, so that's good enough for me! See a list of fiber content here). And as Christine Hanley put it so wonderfully on Cranky Fitness yesterday, eating lots of fiber can cut down on the rates of colon cancer.)

And they're in season! I picked up some very pretty ones with orangey-yellow stripes at the farmer's market the other day. Sliced up with some basil, mozzarella, and olive oil makes a perfect appetizer to a meal.

In a few weeks, I'll post up my recipe for clam-stuffed tomatoes, as I make mega-amounts to freeze and unearth in the dead of winter.


Leah J. Utas said...

My FIL has been supplying us with the most wonderfully tasty tomatoes. I've frozen more than two dozen of them already and we've been eating them like mad.
One of my favorite dishes is tomato, potato, and onion with cheese (I use a Greek sheep cheese) smothered in olive oil,sprinkled with basil and salt, and baked for about an hour.
It's so good I could cry just thinking about it.

The Lethological Gourmet said...

That sounds sooo awesome! I also like spinach, onion, and tomato cooked in oil and garlic. Mmmm. Now I'm hungry. I need lunch.

JavaChick said...

Love tomatoes, I really do. I could (and almost do) eat them every day.

Romny said...

OOOH I think I'm going to try that tomato, potato & onion deal and mix in some spinach & cheese for dinner tonight...YUMMMM-O (to quote Racheal Ray). I love Heirloom Tomatoes!

When my stepfather was diagnosed with the first onset of Pre-Cancerous cells for Prostate Cancer my mom shoved tomatoes down him at every meal. 4 years later he's in the clear and the pre-cancerous cells have shrunk.

Although I don't think it was all the tomatoe's doing but I think it helped. Yay for the tomoato!

MizFit said...

I eat the tomatoes.

I dont like the 'maters.

I know they are good for me.

failure: to find a way I like them YET.

SUCCESS: my toddler thinks I adore them and she eats them by the chubby fistful.

Charlotte said...

What I want to know is how come tomatoes from my garden taste like a completely different fruit/veg than the ones I buy at the store. What are the growers doing to those poor plants??

The Lethological Gourmet said...

Miz, that's awesome! Not that you eat them and don't like them, but that your toddler is following your good example and loves them :) I always found it funny that one of the few veggies I liked as a kid (tomatoes) were the one that my mother wouldn't eat.

Charlotte, you're so right! What stores are you shopping at? If you're not shopping locally, then the tomatoes were probably not ripe at all when they were picked. Even local ones are picked slightly before ripe. But if you pick them out of your garden, they're fully ripe and delicious! I so wish I had space for a garden (and a green thumb...I'm struggling to keep my basil plant alive)