Did the United States invent tomatoes?
Today, tomatoes are ubiquitous, seen growing in backyards and on decks, sold daily at farmers’ markets and grocery stores, and used for easy weeknight dinners and haute cuisine at some of the world’s finest restaurants. Yet, tomatoes were not always one of the most often used components in dishes throughout the globe. They were often the stuff of folklore and horror as they made their way throughout the world.
Although the tomato’s precise origins are unknown, it is thought to have originated in the coastal highlands of western South America, where wild tomato plants may still be found. We do know that by the 16th century, when the Spaniards arrived in Central America, Aztecs in what is now southern Mexico were farming the plant. According to Spanish sources, the Aztecs used it to prepare a sauce with chiles and crushed squash seeds, which they served with fish, shellfish, venison, and other meats. The Aztecs called this plant the xitomatl, perhaps because of its similarity to a small sour-tasting fruit they ate known as the tomatl—the same Nahuatl word from which we get the modern-day English word “tomato.”
After seeing the tomato, the Spaniards carried seeds and plants back to Europe and their other colonies throughout the globe. In Spain and Italy, tomatoes grew easily and were known as “love apples,” perhaps because they looked similar to the fruit of the mandrake, which was thought to be an aphrodisiac. Tomatoes were eaten with cucumbers throughout Europe, as we do now, or cooked with vinegar, salt, pepper, and oil.
Tomatoes emerged in colonial America later, according to historian Andrew F. Smith. Tomatoes were first mentioned in colonial America in a book on plants authored by English herbalist William Salmon in the early 18th century. When Salmon visited the colonies, he saw that tomatoes were being grown in the Carolinas. There are many ideas as to how they got there. He believes that various pathways existed, maybe introduced by Spanish, French, or Caribbean immigrants. It’s also possible that enslaved Africans might have introduced tomatoes to the region, as they were responsible for the cooking on Southern plantations.
Although the tomato was produced in certain colonies, it took Americans a time to accept it as a delicious food source. It didn’t become popular until the nineteenth century, in part because some people thought tomatoes were harmful. As Smith explains, tomatoes were transformed in the American psyche from lethal to wholesome in part due to the entrepreneurial efforts of Dr. John Cook Bennett, who claimed tomatoes were a healthy food source that could be used to treat ailments such as diarrhea. He started marketing “tomato pills,” which were promoted to heal a variety of ailments such as inflammation, pleurisy, and rheumatism. But, the trick was that these tablets included very little, if any, tomato.
Americans started to flock to tomatoes for their health advantages, and their anxieties were quickly dispelled. The fruit started to appear in American supermarkets, restaurants, and home recipes. The first known cookbook to include a variety of tomato recipes—17 in all—was the second edition of The Virginia House-Wife by Mary Randolph in 1824. Recipes included scalloped baked tomatoes, soup, and even marmalade. Several recipes from later-published works contained simple sauces; one had Madeira and advised it go with cold meats. Tomatoes were used in soups, sauces, salads, main courses, and side dishes. They were cooked, ketchupized, and served in tomato pie.
The mid-19th century saw the dawn of “tomato mania,” with Americans increasingly growing the fruits in their gardens and canning them to eat quickly and cheaply. The Spaniards, Italians, and French who had adopted the tomato years previously affected American dishes. Tomatoes were incorporated into omelets and combined with other vegetables, namely okra in the southeastern United States, and they were even used to make alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine.
Technological advancements made commercially processed canned tomatoes accessible to customers year-round, which contributed to the increased popularity of tomatoes during this time period. It was the entrance of Campbell’s Condensed Tomato Soup into the food market in 1869 that would popularize the mass production of various canned tomato formats and, consequently, sales of canned tomatoes. By the 20th century, Americans weren’t just eating fresh tomatoes and including them in their recipes for soups and sauces—they were using canned tomatoes to make meals. Canned food was shelf-stable, didn’t need special storage, and didn’t come with a utility bill.
According to statistics from the Produce Market Guide, the tomato market—including both fresh and processed varieties—was predicted to be worth $3.8 billion in 2018, making tomatoes one of the most eaten product in America, second only to potatoes. It’s estimated that every American consumes almost 21 pounds of tomatoes each year—namely, experts say, because we love tomatoes in the sauces we pair with our favorite pastas. Obviously, the tomato has taken root, and it still reigns supreme in American households today.
Cooking with Canned Tomatoes
Canned tomatoes are the ultimate in home-cooking convenience. We explain when to utilize which in this tutorial.
Did tomatoes originate in America?
Tomatoes are indigenous to South America, with numerous kinds still growing wild in the Andes. Tomatoes were brought to Mexico and tamed and farmed by 500 BC. It is thought that the first cultivated tomato was small and yellow.
Who invented tomatoes?
The tomato is indigenous to western South and Central America. In 1519, Cortez discovered tomatoes growing in Montezuma’s gardens and brought seeds back to Europe where they were planted as ornamental curiosities, but not eaten.
Which country did tomato originated from?
The wild species is assumed to have originated in the Andes Mountains of South America, most likely in Peru and Ecuador, and was domesticated in pre-Columbian Mexico; its name is derived from the Náhuatl (Aztec) word tomatl.
Was tomatoes introduced to Europe or America?
1521. The cultivated tomato was first seen by Europeans in Mesoamerica, where it was an important element of the Nahua diet and culture. The Spanish conquistadores introduced the tomato to Europe after the capture of the city of Tenochtitlan by Hernán Cortés in 1521.