What Are Tomatoes? The Ultimate Guide to Production, Nutrition & Health Benefits

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  May 28, 2022

Always the latest smoking tips & tricks?

Subscribe to THE ESSENTIAL newsletter for aspiring pitmasters

We'll only use your email address for our newsletter and respect your privacy

I love creating free content full of tips for my readers, you. I don't accept paid sponsorships, my opinion is my own, but if you find my recommendations helpful and you end up buying something you like through one of my links, I could earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more

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 originated in Mexico, and spread throughout the world following the Spanish colonization of the Americas.

Tomatoes are a popular vegetable that are often used in savory dishes. Despite being classified as a fruit due to their ripened ovary and seeds, they are commonly referred to as a vegetable (here are a few recipes for the smoker) in culinary contexts.

Throughout this article, I will explore the distinctions between fruits and vegetables, as well as delve into the various culinary applications of tomatoes.

What are tomatoes

Tomatoes: The Fruit that Pretends to be a Vegetable

Tomatoes are one of the most popular fruits in the world, but they are often mistaken for vegetables. This is because they are used in savory dishes and not typically eaten as a sweet snack. However, botanically speaking, tomatoes are a fruit. They are the ripened ovary of a flower and contain seeds, which is the definition of a fruit.

Why are Tomatoes Considered Vegetables?

Even though tomatoes are technically fruits, they are often classified as vegetables in culinary contexts. This is because of their savory flavor and the fact that they are used in dishes like salads, soups, and sauces. In 1893, the United States Supreme Court even ruled that tomatoes should be classified as vegetables for tax purposes.

Do Tomatoes Belong in the Fruit or Vegetable Section?

When it comes to grocery shopping, tomatoes are usually found in the vegetable section. This is because they are more commonly used in savory dishes and are often paired with other vegetables. However, if you were to visit a botanist, they would likely classify tomatoes as a fruit and group them with other fruits like apples and oranges.

So, What’s the Verdict?

In the end, whether you consider tomatoes a fruit or a vegetable depends on the context. Botanically speaking, they are a fruit, but in culinary contexts, they are often treated as a vegetable. Regardless of how you classify them, there’s no denying that tomatoes are a delicious and versatile ingredient that can be used in a wide variety of dishes.

  • Tomatoes are botanically classified as a fruit because they contain seeds and are the ripened ovary of a flower.
  • Culinary contexts often classify tomatoes as vegetables because of their savory flavor and common use in savory dishes.
  • Tomatoes are typically found in the vegetable section of grocery stores, but botanists would classify them as a fruit.
  • Ultimately, whether you consider tomatoes a fruit or a vegetable depends on the context.

From Plant to Market: The Ins and Outs of Tomato Production

Tomatoes go through several stages before they are ready to be sold in the market. These stages include:

  • Starting from seeds or seedlings
  • Planting in the field
  • Watering and fertilizing the plants
  • Picking the tomatoes when they are ripe
  • Sorting and grading the tomatoes
  • Packaging and transporting the tomatoes to the market

Production Components

To achieve optimum tomato production, several components need to be in place. These include:

  • Water supply
  • Sufficient sunlight
  • Control of pests and diseases
  • Proper fertilization
  • Correct planting density
  • Harvesting at the right time

Production Differences

There are several differences between the way tomatoes are produced for fresh consumption versus those used for processing. Some of these differences include:

  • Fresh tomatoes are usually picked when they are fully ripe, while processing tomatoes are picked when they are still green
  • Processing tomatoes are sold by the ton, while fresh tomatoes are sold by count or by weight
  • Processing tomatoes are usually lower in quality and require less water and fertilization
  • Processing tomatoes are often used to make sauces, ketchup, and other tomato-based products

Tomatoes: The Versatile Ingredient You Need in Your Kitchen

Tomatoes are a great addition to any salad or sandwich. Chop them up and toss them in with some avocado, lettuce, and a light dressing for a healthy lunch. Or, slice them up and layer them on top of some crusty bread with a drizzle of olive oil for a traditional Italian bruschetta.

Pesto and Baked

For a heartier meal, try using tomatoes in a baked dish. Layer sliced tomatoes with seasoned meatballs and top with a dollop of pesto for a delicious and easy dinner. Or, mix chopped tomatoes with your favorite herbs and spices and spread it over chicken thighs before baking for a flavorful and healthy main course.

Chopped and Seasoned

Tomatoes are also a great addition to chili during the summer months. Chop them up and mix them in with some minced meat and beans for a fresh and healthy take on this classic dish. Or, chop them up and mix them with some yogurt and herbs for a light and refreshing dressing for your favorite salad.

The Ultimate Guide to Cutting Tomatoes Like a Pro

When it comes to cutting tomatoes, the best knife to use is a serrated knife. This type of knife has teeth that grip the skin of the tomato, making it easier to cut through without squishing the flesh. A paring knife can also work, but it requires a bit more skill and precision.

Preparing the Tomato

Before you start cutting the tomato, make sure it is washed and dried. Then, follow these steps to prepare it for cutting:

  • Hold the tomato firmly on a cutting board.
  • Using a paring knife, trim away the stem and core.
  • If you want to deseed the tomato, cut it in half crosswise and gently squeeze out the seeds and flesh.
  • If you want to keep the seeds and flesh, cut the tomato in half lengthwise.

Cutting Techniques

There are different ways to cut a tomato depending on the recipe or desired shape. Here are some methods to try:

  • Slice: Cut the tomato into thin, even slices by cutting directly down from the top to the bottom.
  • Wedge: Cut the tomato in half lengthwise, then cut each half into wedges by cutting from the center to the edge.
  • Dice: Cut the tomato into small, even cubes by first slicing it into strips, then cutting the strips crosswise.

How to Avoid Squishing the Tomato

To avoid squishing the tomato while cutting, follow these tips:

  • Use a sharp knife to make clean cuts.
  • Apply gentle pressure when cutting, letting the knife do the work.
  • Use a sawing motion when cutting through the skin to avoid squishing the flesh.

Showing Off Your Skills

Now that you know the best way to cut a tomato, you can show off your skills in the kitchen. Try using your freshly cut tomatoes in recipes like pico de gallo or tabbouleh. And if you need a visual guide, there are plenty of videos online that can help you master the art of cutting tomatoes.

Roasting Tomatoes: The Best Way to Cook Them

When it comes to roasting tomatoes, you want to choose a variety that will hold up well in the oven. While all types of tomatoes can be roasted, some are better suited for this cooking method than others. Here are some varieties that work well:

  • Roma tomatoes
  • Beefsteak tomatoes
  • Cherry tomatoes

Creating a Roasted Tomato Sauce

Roasted tomatoes are a great addition to many dishes, but they can also be used to create a delicious sauce. Here’s how to do it:

  1. After roasting the tomatoes, let them cool for a few minutes.
  2. Place the roasted tomatoes in a large bowl and gently mix them together.
  3. Add any other ingredients you want in your sauce, such as garlic, onion, or herbs.
  4. Use an immersion blender or a food processor to blend the ingredients together until smooth.
  5. If the sauce is too thick, you can add a little bit of water to thin it out.
  6. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper as needed.
  7. Serve the sauce over pasta or use it as a base for pizza.

How Long to Cook Tomatoes

The length of time it takes to roast tomatoes will depend on the type of tomato you are using and how you want to use them in your dish. Here are some general guidelines to follow:

  • Cherry tomatoes: Roast for 15-20 minutes.
  • Large tomatoes: Roast for 20-30 minutes.
  • Roma tomatoes: Roast for 30-40 minutes.

Keep in mind that if you want your tomatoes to burst and release their juices, you’ll need to cook them for longer. If you prefer your tomatoes to be a bit firmer, you can cook them for a shorter amount of time.

Tips for Roasting Tomatoes

Here are some additional tips to keep in mind when roasting tomatoes:

  • Cover the baking sheet with foil for easy clean-up.
  • Use a metal baking sheet for even cooking.
  • Don’t overcrowd the baking sheet- give the tomatoes room to roast.
  • Test the tomatoes with a fork to see if they are done. They should be soft and easy to pierce.
  • Let the roasted tomatoes cool for a few minutes before using them in a dish.

Roasting tomatoes is a simple and delicious way to enjoy this versatile produce. Whether you’re making a roasted tomato sauce or adding them to a dish, following these tips will help you create the best roasted tomatoes every time.

Tomatoes: More Than Just a Tasty Treat

Tomatoes are a staple in many dishes around the world, and for good reason. Not only are they delicious, but they also offer a range of health benefits. Here are some of the main benefits associated with tomato consumption:

  • Tomatoes are rich in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, potassium, and folate.
  • They contain a range of beneficial compounds, such as lycopene, which has been linked to a reduced risk of certain types of cancer.
  • Tomatoes are also associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, thanks to their high levels of antioxidants and their ability to help lower cholesterol levels.
  • They may also help prevent damage to the skin from UV radiation, thanks to their high levels of beta-carotene.

The Role of Production and Processing

Of course, in order to reap the benefits of tomatoes, they must be produced and prepared in a way that maintains their nutritional value. Here are some important factors to consider:

  • Tomatoes that are allowed to ripen on the vine tend to have a higher nutritional content than those that are picked early and ripened off the vine.
  • Processing can also have an impact on the nutritional content of tomatoes. For example, cooking tomatoes can actually increase their lycopene content, while processing them into products like ketchup can reduce their overall nutritional value.
  • When preparing tomatoes, it’s important to balance the desire for flavor with the need to maintain their nutritional value. For example, adding extra salt or sugar to tomato dishes can detract from their health benefits.

The Influence of Consumption on the Body

Once tomatoes are consumed, they can have a range of effects on the body. Here are some of the pathways through which tomato constituents can have a positive impact:

  • Lycopene and other compounds in tomatoes have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, which can help prevent a range of health problems.
  • The high levels of antioxidants in tomatoes can help protect the body against oxidative stress, which can contribute to aging and disease.
  • Tomatoes are also associated with improved athletic performance, thanks to their ability to reduce muscle damage and inflammation.

The Complicated Relationship Between Tomatoes and Health

While the benefits of tomato consumption are clear, the relationship between tomatoes and health is not always straightforward. Here are some additional factors to consider:

  • The degree to which tomatoes can prevent disease may depend on a range of factors, including the particular disease in question, the form in which the tomatoes are consumed, and the individual consuming them.
  • Some research has suggested that the benefits of tomato consumption may be felt more strongly in certain populations, such as older adults or those with a family history of certain diseases.
  • It’s also worth noting that while tomatoes are generally considered to be a healthy food, they can be associated with negative effects in some cases. For example, some people may be allergic to tomatoes, and consuming too many tomatoes can lead to digestive issues.

The Market for Tomatoes

Given the potential benefits of tomato consumption, it’s no surprise that tomatoes are a popular food around the world. Here are some additional details about the market for tomatoes:

  • The majority of tomatoes produced around the world are used for processing into products like sauces and canned goods.
  • However, fresh tomatoes are also an important part of the market, with a range of varieties available to consumers.
  • In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on producing tomatoes that are both flavorful and nutritious, with players in the industry working to create new varieties that offer the best of both worlds.
  • In the past year, the per capita consumption of fresh tomatoes in the United States has been 19 pounds, which is a significant increase from the previous years.

The Final Word on Tomatoes

Overall, tomatoes are an important food that offer a range of potential benefits for those who consume them. However, it’s important to be mindful of how they are produced and prepared in order to maintain their nutritional value. By including tomatoes in a balanced diet and preparing them in a way that maximizes their health benefits, individuals can enjoy the many positive effects that this versatile food has to offer.

To get the most nutritional benefit from tomatoes, it’s important to consider the type of tomato and how it’s prepared. Here are some tips:

  • Eat fresh tomatoes: Fresh tomatoes are packed with nutrients and are a great addition to salads, sandwiches, and other dishes.
  • Cook tomatoes with healthy fats: Cooking tomatoes with healthy fats like olive oil can help increase the absorption of certain nutrients, including lycopene.
  • Choose stewed or canned tomatoes: Stewed or canned tomatoes are often more concentrated in nutrients like lycopene than raw tomatoes.
  • Consider cherry tomatoes: Cherry tomatoes are a popular type of tomato that are often sweeter and contain fewer carbs than larger tomatoes. They’re also packed with nutrients like vitamin C and fiber.

Tomatoes: A Nutritional Powerhouse

Tomatoes are a great source of essential vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to function properly. Some of the most important nutrients found in tomatoes include:

  • Vitamin C: Helps to protect our cells from damage and supports a healthy immune system.
  • Potassium: Helps to control blood pressure and maintain normal heart function.
  • Vitamin K: Important for blood clotting and bone health.
  • Folate: Necessary for the production of DNA and important for pregnant women to prevent birth defects.

The Benefits of Lycopene

Tomatoes are particularly known for their high levels of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that has been linked to a variety of health benefits. Some of the effects of lycopene include:

  • Lower risk of heart disease: Lycopene may help to lower blood pressure and prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease.
  • Prevention of certain types of cancer: Lycopene has been shown to protect against prostate, lung, and stomach cancers.
  • Protecting against sun damage: Lycopene can help to protect the skin from UV damage and prevent sunburn.

The Nutrient Content of Tomatoes

Tomatoes consist mainly of water and carbohydrates, with a medium-sized tomato providing only about 22 calories. Some of the key nutrients found in tomatoes include:

  • Carotenoids: These are compounds that give tomatoes their red color and are powerful antioxidants. In addition to lycopene, tomatoes also contain beta-carotene and other carotenoids.
  • Vitamin C: One medium-sized tomato provides about 28% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C.
  • Potassium: One medium-sized tomato contains about 292 mg of potassium, which is important for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function.

The Best Ways to Eat Tomatoes

To get the most nutritional benefits from tomatoes, it’s best to eat them fresh and raw. However, there are many different ways to enjoy tomatoes, including:

  • Sliced on a sandwich or in a salad
  • Roasted or grilled
  • Used in sauces or soups
  • Dried or canned

Tomatoes: The Powerful Health Booster You Need

Tomatoes are a great choice for maintaining a healthy heart. Research has found that the consumption of tomatoes can help lower the risk of heart disease. This is due to the fact that tomatoes contain compounds that are linked to reducing inflammation, improving cholesterol levels, and preventing blood clotting. These effects can help prevent strokes and keep your heart in normal condition.

The Cancer-Fighting Potential of Tomatoes

Tomatoes are also known for their potential to fight cancer. The lycopene found in tomatoes is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. Studies have found that regular consumption of tomatoes can lower the risk of certain types of cancer, including prostate, lung, and stomach cancer.

The Blood Pressure-Lowering Effects of Tomatoes

Tomatoes are highly rich in essential nutrients and molecules that help maintain a healthy blood pressure. The potassium content in tomatoes is known to help reduce tension in the blood vessels, which in turn lowers blood pressure. Additionally, the fiber content in tomatoes allows for better glucose break down and maintains a healthy blood sugar level.

The Proper Way to Store and Consume Tomatoes

To get the most out of the health benefits of tomatoes, it’s important to be careful when storing and consuming them. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Store tomatoes at room temperature: Tomatoes should be stored at room temperature, away from direct sunlight. Storing them in the fridge can destroy some of the elements that make them so healthy.
  • Choose ripe tomatoes: Ripe tomatoes are more nutritious than unripe ones. Look for tomatoes that are firm, smooth, and heavy for their size.
  • Eat a variety of tomato products: Tomatoes come in many forms, including fresh, canned, and dried. Eating a variety of tomato products can help you get plenty of the health benefits they provide.
  • Add tomatoes to your favorite foods: Tomatoes are a common ingredient in many foods, including salads, sandwiches, and pasta dishes. Adding tomatoes to your favorite foods is an easy way to incorporate them into your diet.

Tomatoes are a powerful food that provides significant health benefits. Whether you’re an experienced professional or entirely new to making healthy food choices, adding tomatoes to your diets is a great way to improve your overall health and well-being.


So there you have it- everything you need to know about tomatoes. They’re a fruit, but most people think they’re a vegetable. They’re delicious, versatile, and can be used in a wide variety of dishes.

You can use them in salads, sandwiches, soups, sauces, and even in desserts. They’re a great addition to any kitchen and can be used in both savory and sweet dishes.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.