The tomato is one of the symbols of the Mediterranean diet, even though it comes from a very long way away. Considered to be the most Italian of all vegetables, it actually arrived here from the Americas in the middle of the 16th century. Thanks to its countless qualities, it is now considered to be the emblem of a healthy diet. “The high water-content helps keep the body hydrated and reduces the overall calorie intake” explains nutritionist Elena Dogliotti, who adds, “It also contains very little sugar and a good dose of vitamin C, which has a strong antioxidant effect, and lots of potassium, which helps keep the blood pressure within the limits and is important for muscle function and cellular exchange. Thanks to fibre, it is an excellent pre-biotic, properly nourishing the “good” bacteria present in the gut and promoting a correct intestinal balance”. This balance, as we know, is essential to keep us healthy and to avoid the development of allergies, autoimmune diseases and obesity. The tomato also has lots of bioactive molecules, like antioxidant polyphenols, which have valuable anti-ageing properties, and is well-known for the presence of lycopene, a carotenoid which gives it its red colour as well as promoting the function of the immune system and helping to prevent cancer. “Vitamin C is absorbed better when tomatoes are eaten raw, while lycopene absorption is better when they are cooked: higher temperatures break the cell walls, increasing its availability” says Elena Dogliotti. “The best thing is to serve cooked tomato with a drizzle of raw olive oil, to maintain all the properties of the condiment intact too”. Tomato sauce, a typical Italian condiment for pasta and pizza, is a healthy food which is also ideal for children and teenagers.
The tomato originated in Mexico and Peru, where it was greatly appreciated and was known by the Incas and Aztecs as xitomatl (hence the English name, tomato), meaning “plant with juicy flesh and lots of seeds”. It was eaten every day, also as a sauce. The tomato arrived in Europe in 1540, when the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés took some back home to Spain. The fruit of the first plants arrived in Europe and wascultivated mainly in France, in a cold climate, remaining small and yellowish, often twisted and not particularly appealing.
The tomato made its appearance in Italy in 1596 as an ornamental plant in Northern Italian homes. Twenty years later it moved south, where the favourable climate produced bigger orangey-red fruit. Southern Italian farmers began eating it raw and cooked almost a century before other Europeans and today the tomato is one of the most widely used foods in Italian cuisine.