What makes tomatoes split? Should they be refrigerated? Can they help heal sunburns? Answers to these questions and many more are found in this Ultimate Guide to Tomatoes. Read on for the scoop about growing tomatoes, preparing them and what nutrients they bring to the table. Check out the several tomato recipes as well.

Different varieties of tomatoes next to each other

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Tomato Origin and Growing Information

Where did tomatoes originate?

Tomatoes grew wild in the Andes, near Peru and Bolivia. There they were first cultivated to resemble the tomatoes that we know today. Italians were the first Europeans to cultivate tomatoes in 1550. From there, they made their way around the globe.

How do tomatoes grow?

Tomato plants grow from seed to up to 6 foot tall branching plants. Depending on the variety, tomato plants grow small flowers that bear fruit and turn red when ripe. These plants need 6 to 8 hours of direct sun each day and daily watering to supply their deep roots. If the weather is below 50 degrees or above 90 degrees, the flowers may be unable to bear fruit. A tomato cage will help support your plant as it grows taller.

Where do tomatoes grow best?

Tomatoes grow best when exposed to mild summer temperatures between 50 and 90 degrees. They also prefer to have at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunshine each day. Tomatoes should be watered daily and supported by stakes or a cage.

Will tomatoes grow in the winter?

Tomatoes do not typically grow in the winter, especially in New England. However, in growing zone 10, which includes the southern parts of Florida, Texas and California, tomatoes grow in the winter, as the temperatures are milder. Additionally, tomatoes can be grown in temperature controlled hoop houses year round.

Tomatoes growing in the garden

Why do tomatoes split?

If tomatoes are exposed to period of dry weather followed by heavy rain, it can cause them to split. This is due to the tomatoes swelling from overwatering and splitting. Making sure your tomato plants are consistently watered can help avoid splitting.

Cooking and Preparing Tomatoes

Which tomatoes are best for salsa? Pasta? Salad?

Plum tomatoes are more firm and less juicy then “slicing” tomatoes and work very well to make tomato sauce because there is less liquid in them to evaporate into thick sauce. Sun-ripened garden fresh tomatoes are best for salsa because they have the best flavor. I like to use a blend of yellow and red tomatoes for a slightly less acidic fresh pico de gallo. For my tomato and anchovy salad I recommend a blend of garden fresh heirloom beefsteak tomatoes, like a Brandywine and Cherokee Purple. To add tomato to a green salad, look for ripe but firm medium sized tomatoes, salad tomatoes or cherry tomatoes so as not to add too much unwanted moisture to the salad.

Can tomatoes be refrigerated?

Tomatoes continue to ripen after they are picked, which is great if you have green tomatoes that need to ripen with an impending frost. But they should not be refrigerated to retard the process of ripening because doing so makes their texture grainy. Instead store them in a cool place to prevent them from becoming overly ripe. If it is necessary to refrigerate them, use them in cooked applications where the grainy texture will not be noticeable.

When do tomatoes go bad?

Tomatoes go bad when they become overly ripe. They will get a soft spot, and the flesh will become translucent in areas. Once they are really starting to pass, they will get mold growing in the softest areas.

How do you deseed a tomato?

Here is a step by step method for removing the skin and seeds from tomato. You can also remove the seeds from a tomato without removing the skin by slicing in half (along the equator- not through the stem/blossom ends) and then gently squeezing the seeds out. Use your finger tip to poke out any stubborn seeds that do not want to come out.

Sliced tomatoes layer alongside each other

Nutrition of Tomatoes

Are tomatoes low carb? Keto?

Tomatoes are low carb, only containing about 7g of carbohydrates per one cup. Of these 7g of carbs, 2g are from fiber. This fiber is necessary for a healthy gut microbiome and can also promote fullness. They are also acceptable for those choosing to follow a keto diet.

Are tomatoes acidic?

Tomatoes are highly acidic, having a pH of 4.0 to 4.5. This can cause heartburn or flare-ups for individuals with GERD and for those who are sensitive to acidic foods. However, if you do not experience heartburn or discomfort after eating tomatoes, this will not adversely effect your health.

A variety of tomatoes on a table

Are tomatoes good for sunburns?

One of the most prominent antioxidants in tomatoes is called lycopene. In several studies, lycopene has been shown to increase your skin’s resistance to sunburns. In one study conducted in the UK, they found women following a tomato rich diet had a 30% increase in skin protection from sunburns. However, this does not mean tomatoes are a substitute for sunscreen or heal sunburns once they happen. Some home remedies recommend applying a sliced tomato to burns after they happen as an alternate to aloe; yet, there have not been any studies done to prove the efficacy of  this.

Are tomatoes bad for arthritis?

Vegetables like eggplants, tomatoes, peppers and potatoes are part of the nightshade vegetable family. These types of vegetables produce a chemical called solanine, which some people claim can irritate joints and increase arthritis pain. The support for this claim is purely anecdotal, as there is no science supporting it right now. There are many nutrients in nightshade vegetables that are important for a healthy diet; regardless of if you have arthritis. However, if you find that these vegetables are a trigger for pain, then they should be avoided and slowly reincorporated to see if the trigger subsists.

A large tomatoes growing in the garden

Tomato Recipes

Tomato Recipes

Tomatoes are one of my favorite ingredients from the garden. The best part about them is you don't have to do much to get all their delicious flavor out. Eat them raw with olive oil and salt, or add thme to a warm dish.

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Happy Cooking! ~Katie