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?

A simple tomato image on a white background

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.

Portrait of Cortes - History of Tomatoes

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.

A simple tomato - History of Tomatoes

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.

A tomato with the poison sign in the middle - History of Tomatoes

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

Portrait of Joseph de Tournefort - History of Tomatoes

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”.

Portrait of Claude Galen - History of Tomatoes

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.

A simple tomato - History of Tomatoes

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.

A simple tomato - History of Tomatoes

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.

A simple tomato - History of Tomatoes

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.

Portraint of Livingston - History of Tomatoes

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.

Paragon Tomato on the ground - History of Tomatoes

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

Cover of 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.

5 Colorful Types of Tomatoes - Ananas Noire Tomato (Black Pineapple Tomato) History of Tomatoes

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.


Related: Check out some of my favorite tomato recipes. 

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:

Ohio Press – Livingston and the tomato –

Ohio History Central – Alexander W. Livingston

Encyclopedia Britannica Online – Joseph Pitton De Tournefort

Wikipedia – Tomato

Wikipedia – Hernán Cortés – History of the tomato (Site is no longer live)

BBC UK – Claudius Galenus

Photo Credits

Livingston and the Tomato Book Cover –

Alexander W. Livingston’s Picture – (Site no longer accessible)

Joseph Pitton De Tournefort’s Picture –

Paragon Tomato Picture –

Galen Picture –

Cortes Picture –