Tomato History is a Blast

TNT is the yellow chemical compound trinitrotoluene commonly used for explosives, but in this post, I’m not talking detonation as much as transportation, although I must admit, a fresh mozzarella, balsamic vinegar, and tomato saladwith a generous sprinkling of newly harvested, minty-peppery basilcan certainly blow me away.

Transoceanic Transplantation

Imagine a world without ketchup. Or pizza without tomato sauce. In fact, if you can (and despite the horror) delete from your memory banks any tomato based spaghetti sauce, salsa, gazpacho, ratatouille, soup, and (oh my, this is difficult) BLT sandwiches … without the T! Someone call Chef Boyardee, I may faint! (Click his name and check out his 1953 video.)

An Ancient Food

It is thought the tomato may have originated on the Galapagos Islands but somehow wound up in South America. As the tale goes, while Spanish explorer Hernán Cortéz was enjoying a stroll in the Aztec gardens of Montezuma, he stumbled upon a plump, shiny fruitprobably as small as a fat grape and as yellow as the suncalled a tomatl. He delighted in the discovery and brought some tomato seeds back to Spain.

For the sake of story, let’s say Mama Cortéz planted the seeds, cultivated them, and when they grew, took one look at the golden balls swelling roly-poly on the vine and declared them lovely. Of course! But because she thought they were poisonous, she kept them for ornamentation, not oral consumption. As did everyone else. Except … the Italians. Enough said.

A Modern Dilemma

In which refrigerator drawer must they be stored? Fruits? Vegetables? The answer is neither. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s begin with the question, are tomatoes a fruit or vegetable? To find the answer, you must know the definition of the word fruit, the word vegetable, and taxes. Yup. Taxes. And, believe it or not, the Supreme Court.

Consider … these definitions came from the same source.

Fruit: “The developed ovary of a seed plant with its contents and accessory parts, as the pea pod, nut, tomato, or pineapple.”

Vegetable: “Any plant whose roots, seeds, fruits, tubers, bulbs, stems, leaves, or flower parts are used as food, as the tomato, bean, beet …” wait a minute … why does one source name the tomato in both definitions? Guess that’s why the Supreme Court had to get involved. And their decision was … wait … again … why is tax an issue?

Tomato Tax: An 1883 tariff was implemented to protect domestic vegetable farmers by taxing foreign farmers and their imported vegetables. But the classification of the tomato was in question, so after a disgruntled non-citizen paid the tax, he also paid a visit to his lawyer.

In 1893, the Nix vs. Hedden case decided the tomato is a vegetable. Whew. Not only that, but they are one of the worlds healthiest foods. So raise your iced tomato juice high, and thank God for making the tomato.




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