With the warm sun beating down on us and the skies blue and bright, spring and summer are right around the corner. Now is the perfect time for barbecues and picnics with your loved ones. With many fresh fruits and vegetables ripe and for the taking, summer always makes for more delightfully colorful meals. And there are very few fruits that are as bright, brilliant, and gorgeous as the juicy, delectable tomato!
In my opinion, tomatoes are the perfect summer ingredient –– and yet you can have them during any season! Not only does its bright hue make your dish eye popping and appealing, but its sweet, fruity taste brings color to every bite. Whether you enjoy them fresh or processed, tomatoes make an appearance in almost every kitchen. This is an ingredient that’s been around for a long time –– and is guaranteed to be around a lot longer.
The humble tomato (or kamatis, as we call it) has had a huge impact across several cuisines around the world –– but just how much do you know about this ball of deliciousness? Through this article, we hope to give you a bit of background on the ripe and juicy kamatis; its health benefits; and some of the best ways to utilize it in your cooking.
But first let’s answer the question that’s plagued many people’s minds for years now:
Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?
This is a classic debate people have been having for a long while now. It’s never gone as deep as to wreck friendships or relationships (I hope), but it is definitely a subject of discourse in several classrooms, and even in the culinary world.
To classify a tomato as a vegetable or fruit, we must first understand what being a vegetable or a fruit actually means. Let’s put it scientifically:
- Basically, fruits are the product of flowers and have seeds, which can be used to produce more plants, flowers, and fruits. Examples of these, of course, are berries, apples, and peaches.
- Vegetables, meanwhile, are other parts of a plant that don’t really help with its blooming or reproduction –– think roots, leaves, or stems. This is why when we think of vegetables, green is usually the color that comes to mind. See: cabbage, broccoli, kangkong, and other leafy greens.
Based on these definitions, we can say that tomato is most definitely a fruit considering its own constitution. They are born from the beautiful flowers of the plant, each containing seeds that can eventually lead to reproduction. More than just a part of a plant, it is the actual product! Therefore, by botanical classification, a tomato is a fruit.
However, talking about ingredients from a culinary perspective proves a little bit different. In the kitchen, chefs and nutritionists don’t really view fruits or vegetables the way botanists do. What do we mean by that? Let’s take a look.
- By culinary definition, fruits are those with succulent and sweet tastes, which you often see or use in snacks or desserts. Pastries, jams, and those you eat as a standalone often fall under this category.
- Vegetables, meanwhile, have a starchier, more complex layer of taste. They are, for the most part, the farthest thing from sweet, however, with some even erring on bitter. Vegetables are the ingredients you typically use in more savory ingredients, served as part of a side dish or a standalone main.
With this definition in mind, it’s unsurprising that a lot of ingredients that we classified as fruits botanically actually fall under the category of vegetables when we cook them. Pumpkins, zucchinis, and string beans are just some of the examples of these paradoxes. And guess what –– so is the tomato! Nutritionists and chefs alike acknowledge that while tomato has fruity roots, it is, by and large, used as a vegetable product when cooking.
The “Is tomato a fruit or vegetable?” debate is one that has disturbed so many people for so many years, for whatever reason. In fact, a ruling had to be done regarding tomato’s classification in the 1893 US Supreme Court; that’s how much people took this seriously. In their ruling, the judges agreed that while tomatoes met botanical criteria, to the common people, they were vegetables –– and a lot of people in the world now would still agree.
So to answer the question of whether tomatoes are fruits or vegetables, well –– they’re both! But such a matter doesn’t … matter, really, unless you’re dealing with some sort of import tax issue. Regardless of its classification, tomatoes are a fruit (or vegetable) you can enjoy in your diet, anywhere, any time.
Where do tomatoes come from?
The tomato has Latin and South American origins, with many crediting its birthplace as the Andes Mountains of South America. It was brought to Europe in the 16th century, but back then people saw it only as a means of decoration and not to eat.
Why is that?, you might be asking. Truthfully, tomato’s family history isn’t exactly favorable. The tomato we know and love stems from –– you guessed it –– the tomato plant, whose scientific name is Solanum lycopersicum. The genus Solanum has housed many a powerhouse of ingredients, including bell peppers, eggplants, and the humble potato. It has, however, close relations to nightshade –– a deadly and poisonous plant that many in the past regarded with much fear. As such, people were wary of tomatoes and simply chose not to eat them if they had a choice.
However, despite its difficult beginnings, the humble tomato saw a rise in popularity across Europe. In fact, Italians call this fruit pomodoro, whose literal meaning is “golden apple.” This is also why some believe that the first tomatoes that Europeans ever saw were actually yellow, instead of the classic trademark red.
The tomato found its way in the United States during the 1700s. While it grew and was native to the state of Louisiana, it surprisingly didn’t achieve as much prominence until the early 20th century. Now, they’re all across the globe, finding its way in cuisines across the world –– and the Philippines is no exception. Our kamatis, ripe, juicy, and delicious, is here, and here to stay.
Choose your fighter: Tomato edition
History lesson aside, tomatoes come in several shapes and sizes. Depending on where you’re from or what you’re cooking, there are a myriad of variants that would work perfectly with your recipes. Here are some of the most common types of tomatoes, as well as what they’re best for.
- Globe tomatoes
The globe tomato is the most common type of tomato you can find in any supermarket. Easily recognizable by its round –– globelike, of course –– shape, these tomatoes are probably the most accessible and inexpensive ones you can find. They’re the all rounders (pun intended) in the kitchen, perfect in dishes that range from sandwiches to soups to salads. You can even enjoy them raw!
- Heirloom tomatoes
Heirloom tomatoes refer to the “purest” of the pure –– those that aren’t hybrids, and instead come from one single genetic line. The heirloom tomato is admired all over the world for its unique and distinct taste –– zesty and sweet all at the same time, it’s the perfect bite in one. Like the other tomatoes on this list, these guys are oh so versatile! But my recommendation? Drizzle your heirloom tomatoes with some olive oil and salt, and you’ll immediately be able to taste the difference.
- Beefsteak tomatoes
Have you ever seen a tomato that looks like a mini pumpkin? That’s basically what a beefsteak tomato is! Large, firm, and meaty, beefsteak tomatoes really pack a punch of both size and flavor. They are the largest variant of tomato, and the heaviest, too! Beefsteak tomatoes provide an intense flavor unlike any other, and you can enjoy them raw. They’re also ideal for burgers or sandwiches, because of their thick consistency.
- Cherry tomatoes
They say the best things come in small packages –– anyone who likes these sweet treats is bound to agree. Succulent and summery, cherry tomatoes are the best way to add bursts of flavor to your meals in small doses! True to its name, this tomato is only about an inch in diameter, making it the size of an unusually large cherry. Not only are they tiny, but they come in several different colors, too –– ranging from red to yellow to purple, even black!
Cherry tomatoes can usually be eaten whole; many love to add them to their skewers, or to roast them on the barbecue to further highlight their tangy goodness. Pop them in your mouth for a quick snack, too!
- Grape tomatoes
Thick and meaty, this type of tomato unsurprisingly resembles the fruit it gets its name from, but has its own unique flavor! You don’t usually eat this type of tomato raw. However, its meaty texture and thickness make it great for cooking or tossing into pastas. Many enjoy skewering and grilling it to bring out its delightful taste, too!
Grape tomatoes aren’t as sweet as cherry tomatoes are, but they also come in a wide variety of colors and flavors. For instance, pick a red one for sweetness, and yellow for a slightly tarter feel.
- Roma or plum tomatoes
Fans of Italian cuisine are most definitely familiar with this one! Leaning more into its tart flavor profile, roma tomatoes are perfect in tomato sauces and pastes that we find in the pasta dishes we know and love. The roma tomato has a taste fresh and zingy unlike any other. For recipes that require thick sauces or marinades, this tomato is truly the way to go.
Looking at this list, it already seems like there are so many different types of tomatoes to enjoy. But would you believe me if I told you this didn’t even cover half of the varieties? Whether it’s sweet or tangy you’re after, big or small, the tomato truly has something for everyone. No wonder it’s as beloved and renowned as it is now.
Jack of all trades: How do you enjoy tomatoes?
With the many kinds of tomatoes come many ways to enjoy them! There’s no wrong way to use tomatoes, and across its centuries worth of being used I’m fairly certain people have tried most, if not all possible ways. Here are just some of the most commonly enjoyed approaches.
- Stuff them.
Stuffing veggies is a popular way of enjoying them and making your dish more unique and hearty. Whether it’s morning, noon, or night, stuffed tomatoes are a perfect, filling combination to any dish. Stuff tomatoes are made by slicing a tomato horizontally and scooping out its insides, replacing it with your preferred ingredients. The best thing about a stuffed tomato is its versatility; you can stuff these veggies with absolutely anything! Be it cheese, herbs, or other vegetables, toss them in the oven after for a heavenly bite.
- Grill them.
Eat them as a side dish or slip them between your burger buns; grilled tomatoes are used and adored around the world, and for good reason! Grilling a tomato only further highlights the fruit’s deliciously bright and refreshing flavors. You can even brush them with olive oil or any other seasoning before laying them on the grill to let the tastes steep in even further.
- Marinate them.
Marinating tomatoes is one of the fastest and easiest ways to enjoy these tiny red treats. It literally only takes 10 minutes to prep and mix these exquisite jewels and turn them into something absolutely delicious. Marinated tomatoes are great for tossing into pastas, serving over toast, or pouring into salads. Toss your tomatoes in with some cheese, herbs, and pesto, too, for a bite that’s sweet and savory all at the same time.
- Turn it into pasta sauce.
If you’ve ever been to a kid’s birthday party, sweet and scrumptious spaghetti probably isn’t a stranger to you. Both kids and adults alike can find comfort in the cheesy, meaty goodness of a great spaghetti. While others around the world enjoy a meatier, more balanced flavor palate in their pasta, Filipinos do love to satisfy their sweet tooth. This is evident in how decadent and sugary our Pinoy Style Spaghetti is!
But whether you’re having it the Pinoy way or the classic Italian way, tomatoes play a large part of our spaghetti pasta sauce. Here is an easy way to make this wonderful sauce from scratch, but you can always find it handy at a grocery store when you’re short on time. Not only does it taste delicious, but the sight of bright red really livens up your dinner table!
- Make tomato jam.
Compact, filling, and bursting with tastiness, sandwiches are the perfect summer food to bring to picnics or to enjoy with a nice glass of coffee, tea, or juice. And one of the best things to enjoy as your palaman for sandwiches is a bright and tasty tomato jam! Tomato jam is definitely a bit sweeter than your regular tomato sauce, and served atop some nice slices of bread it works wonders. For both kids and adults alike this is truly a classic. Not to mention it’s pretty easy to make, too! Just be sure to consume it within a week lest it go bad.
- … or make tomato soup.
Are you a grilled cheese fan? There’s just something so comforting about biting into golden brown pieces of toast layered with gooey, cheesy goodness. And to dip that into a nice bowl of tomato soup? It’s utmost perfection. Grilled cheese is one of my favorite comfort foods, and tomato soup as its partner speaks to my soul. But even without the sandwich, this soup can still be a soothing comfort food on its own! Thick, creamy, and bursting with the delightful flavors we know tomato contains –– what’s not to love?
- Want some ketchup with that?
Having french fries or hotdogs at the table? If so, you’re probably looking to squeeze some tomato ketchup on them to liven up the flavors. Ketchup is one of the most popular condiments in the world, and the taste of the sweet tomato makes a tasty addition to almost anything. You can find ketchup (tomato or banana –– your pick!) lining any grocery store condiment aisle, but if you’re feeling adventurous you can try to make your own at home, too!
- Keep them in a can
Canning tomatoes is actually a very economical and cost-efficient way to save tomatoes in your kitchen! Not only do you get to preserve its tastiness, but you’re also storing and saving the many nutrients that makes tomato the superfruit it is. Canning tomatoes is definitely a lot easier than it sounds; you can even do it from the comfort of your own home. Follow the instructions here and make it a fun bonding activity for your family!
Let’s get cookin’: Tomato and tomato-based recipes
Now that you have all these different ways to cook tomatoes, let’s see some of my easy and tasty recipes that include our favorite fruit of the day. Whether it’s the sidekick or the star of the show, the bright and cheery kamatis will leave its unforgettable mark on these dishes, and your kitchen, too.
Simply put, this dish is chicken in tomato stew. What could go wrong? The juicy meat of the chicken is easily able to soak up tomato’s mouthwatering flavors. It is a wonderful, hearty meal that will have you wanting seconds (then third, then fourths …) with ease. Adding chili peppers can also bring your dish an eye-popping level of spice. Your rice intake to accompany this sarciadong manok will definitely lead to you having an undoubtedly filling meal!
If you want something a little healthier, I recommend using tofu as the main protein for this meal instead. Tofu sarciado brings you all the tomato flavors of sarciadong manok that you love –– without the heavy feeling of chicken! Try it today!
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, which is why you should never skip out on it! This Filipino omelette, prepared with a heaping bowl of garlic rice, is a great way to start your day. And all you need for a great omelet are tomato and onion slices!
Obviously an omelet is a very adaptable meal in itself. This is why at hotel breakfast buffets you even have omelette stations, which let you choose what you’d like inside your scrambled eggs. Some go the hearty route and opt for bacon and cheese, while others add more vegetables like bell peppers. But kamatis remains a classic and popular choice in your local omelette inclusions! You can never go wrong with this Filipino omelet to jump start your mornings.
I couldn’t make a list about tomato-based recipes without including one of our most beloved tomato stews! Menudo is one of the ultimate Filipino comfort foods. Tender pork, cooked alongside carrots, potatoes, and pig liver, make for an amazing meal in the morning, noon or night. Menudo is absolutely delicious, and the tomato sauce only highlights every other ingredient’s incredible flavors. It may take quite a while to make but it is always worth the wait!
For fans of rich and creamy flavors, this Tuscan Salmon makes a great and hearty meal! Salmon is another common ingredient in food, as it is versatile and can be used in a plethora of ways. Pairing this creamy fish with tomato really brings out its fresh flavors, and the creamy garlic sauce only makes this dish more enjoyable. Succulent and scrumptious, you’ll be wanting seconds and more after just one bite!
What dishes do you like to cook kamatis in? Let us know in the comments below.
Health benefits of the tomato
The amazing thing about kamatis is that they are regarded as a powerhouse vegetable. Just one tomato is enough to provide you with the quality vitamins and nutrients you need to power through the day!
A great source of Vitamin C, K, and potassium, among others, eating tomatoes improves both your skin and heart –– keeping you glowing and growing inside and out! Studies show that eating enough tomatoes even helps prevent your body from getting fatal illnesses like cancer, due to its high concentration of lycopene.
For more on the tomato and its nutritional content, read on here.
With summer just around the corner, a fresh and ripe tomato makes for a wonderful treat in any dish you’re cooking up. Its bright and refreshing taste cannot go by unnoticed; it really is one of the most beloved ingredients around the world. How are you having tomatoes today?