Do you lay awake at night wondering how this wonderful fruit came into existence? I have spent many nights wondering the evolution and history of tomatoes
So, what have I learned so far about tomatoes?
You say Tomato, the Aztecs say “xitomatl“. Translated, it means, “Plump fruit with a navel”. Very fitting, isn’t it? The earliest record of tomatoes in use is seen in the Aztec people’s history. It is believed that they used it in cooking and gave it as gifts, mainly to newlyweds. Aztecs thought that of tomatoes having the ability to increase fertility. Long before the Spaniards conquered America, they conquered the Aztecs. Among some of the items they incorporated into their culture, was the “tomatl“. They took the fruit and renamed it “tomatl”. Yes, that is very close to “tomato” but we have to go through a few eras before we get to the modern translation.
In the early 16th Century, the Spanish conquistador by the name of Hernán Cortés saw the tomato fruit growing in Montezuma. He was completely taken by this “Red Bloom” and eventually brought the seeds to Europe and Spain. He tried and had some success in convincing people to plant the seeds, although people never got beyond using it as a “decorative” plant.
It took centuries, however, before the fruit was accepted as a food product. Finally, when Spaniards introduced this fruit to the West Indies and the Caribbean, the tomato started to be taken seriously. It found its way to the Asian Continent and that was the beginning of an exciting new chapter in the Indian culinary history.
In some of its early years outside of Spain, the tomato was considered to be a poisonous fruit! Yes, we couldn’t believe it either. Bet the same people who thought the tomato was poisonous also thought that the earth was flat! History of tomatoes would not be complete without this info
The Latin Name for the tomato is Lysopersicon Esculentum (eventually renamed to Solanum Lycopersicum). A renowned French Botanist by the name of Joseph Pitton de Tournefort gave it the original latin name. Literally translated, the original Latin name translates as “Wolfpeach”.
Claudius Glaenus (A.K.A Galen) had described a fruit that looked a lot alike the tomato as “Wolfpeach“. The peach part was because it looked a lot like peaches (Duh!). The wolf part is because it was it was considered poisonous and would be used to deceive wolves into eating them.
In those days, the tomato was nothing like the tomato we know today. So, it could very well have been poisonous. It is possible that tomatoes, in that century, must have had lethal levels of acidity in them which is why they were considered poisonous.
In any case, the seeds were used to grow the tomatoes in gardens across Europe purely for aesthetic purposes. They may have been thought to be poisonous when ingested but tomatoes did make their gardens look vibrant and breathtaking.
In the early 1700s, tomato seeds were brought into the 13 US colonies and it became a part of the American heritage. Over a century later, the word “tomato” was derived from the Spanish word “tomate” and it is now part of the English Lexicon.
It always comes down to pioneers who can take an unknown product and stratosphere it into a world famous product. Such a pioneer was a Seedsman / Botanist by the name of Alexander W. Livingston, from Reynoldsburg, Ohio. He bought boxes of seeds from Buckeye Garden Seed Company and turned it into a very profitable business. Amongst the seeds were seeds of the tomato, though it was still not in its current form. Livingston saw the potential in these tomatoes and decided to develop it for mass consumption. In his experimental phase, he grew varieties of tomatoes, trying to perfect their shape and taste. He would go through all the plants and pick out the ones that looked great. He would then take the seeds from those tomatoes and plant them the following year. Five years of experimenting with this and he finally had the tomato just like he wanted.
In 1870, He perfected and introduced the Paragon tomato. After the Paragon tomato was introduced, tomatoes took off like wild fire. Livingston wrote a book after he retired and called it, “Livingston and the Tomato“. History of Tomatoes
The first line in his book, Alexander Livingston wrote, “It has not been my purpose to write an exhaustive work on this increasingly popular fruit and vegetable.” He would have no idea just how popular this fruit became. It became popular soup after Joseph Campbell made it available in cans; it became popular as pickle when cooks realized that it could be preserved for a long time; it became popular as a snack when it people discovered it’s health benefits.
Today, the tomato is considered to be very healthy and delicious. It is very versatile thus it can be used in all sorts of cooking methods. It can be baked, roasted, fried, grilled, pickled, and powdered. There are websites, groups, books and countless other tomato-related dedications in everyday life.
Do you have more to add to this History of Tomatoes page? Contact me ASAP.
History of Tomatoes – Sources
Livingston’s book – Now scanned into the Library of Congress online – Read it here at: https://archive.org/stream/livingstontomato00livi#page/n9/mode/2up
Ohio Press – Livingston and the tomato
Saveseeds.com – https://www.saveseeds.org/biography/livingston/livingston_bio.html
Ohio History Central – Alexander W. Livingston
Encyclopedia Britannica Online – Joseph Pitton De Tournefort
Wikipedia – Tomato
Wikipedia – Hernán Cortés
Secrethistoryx.com – History of the tomato (Site is no longer live)
BBC UK – Claudius Galenus
Livingston and the Tomato Book Cover – https://archive.org/details/livingstontomato00livi
Alexander W. Livingston’s Picture – https://www.saveseeds.org/biography/livingston/livingston_bio.html (Site no longer accessible)
Joseph Pitton De Tournefort’s Picture – https://www.babelio.com/auteur/Joseph-Pitton-de-Tournefort/179388
Paragon Tomato Picture – https://store.tomatofest.com/Paragon_Livingston_Heirloom_Tomato_Seeds_p/tf-0371.htm
Galen Picture – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galen
Cortes Picture – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hern%C3%A1n_Cort%C3%A9s