Wednesday, April 08, 2015

A Brief History of Foods: The Tomato

"A Brief History of Foods" is mostly aimed at improving my knowledge on the origins of the foodstuffs commonly eaten in Britain throughout its long history.  Over the years I have been surprised to learn how few of our commonly used ingredients are actually native to these shores, and just how many were introduced, when and by whom.  Perhaps you too might discover something new and quite interesting.
The tomato is the edible, often red fruit/berry of the nightshade Solanum lycopersicum, commonly known as a tomato plant.  The species originated in the South American Andes and its use as a food began in Mexico, spreading throughout the world following the Spanish colonisation of the Americas.

Aztecs and other peoples in Mesoamerica used the fruit in their cooking.  The exact date of domestication is unknown: by 500 BC, it was already being cultivated in southern Mexico and probably other areas.  The large, lumpy variety of tomato, a mutation from a smoother, smaller fruit, originated in Mesoamerica, and may be the direct ancestor of some modern cultivated tomatoes.

Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés may have been the first to transfer the small yellow tomato to Europe after he captured the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City, in 1521, although Christopher Columbus, a Genoese working for the Spanish monarchy, may have taken them back as early as 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 suggested that a new type of eggplant had been brought to Italy that was blood red or golden colour when mature and could be divided into segments and eaten like an eggplant - that is, cooked and seasoned with salt, black pepper, and oil.  It was not until ten years later, however, that tomatoes were named in print by Mattioli as pomi d’oro, or "golden apple".

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