Tomatoes and the science behind them

Summer is here and fresh fruits and vegetables are everywhere, including tomatoes. This is a great time to do some dinner table plant science.

With backyard gardens and farmer’s markets brimming with freshly picked produce, it is the perfect time to try new fruits and vegetables and make summer a ripe and tasty time for learning. The dinner table or better yet, picnic table, is a perfect place for a little plant science. Learning more about the foods we eat, how they grow, where they come from and teaching kids a little plant science can make for a great summer time activity for young and old.

Tomatoes are at the top of the list for summertime favorites. Nothing tastes quite as good as a tomato right off the vine.

Here a few fun facts to share about tomatoes:

  • Tomatoes originally came from Peru, the Aztec name translated to plump thing with a navel.
  • Tomatoes were first brought to Europe in the mid-1500s.
  • The scientific name for tomato is Lycopersicon, with Lycopersicum meaning wolf peach.
  • People used to think tomatoes were poisonous because they are a close relative to the deadly night shade plant.
  • Tomatoes increase in weight as they ripen, even after harvesting.
  • The first tomatoes in Europe were yellow. The Italian word for tomato is Pomodoro, and translates to golden apple.
  • A tomato is a fruit. A fruit is the edible part of the plant containing seeds, and a vegetable is a stem, leaf or root.
  • Tomato seedlings have been grown in space.
  • There are over 10,000 varieties of tomato that come in a variety of colors including pink, purple, black, yellow and white.

Consuming fresh or processed tomatoes have a multitude of health benefits. Here are a few:

  • Tomatoes are low in calories and are an excellent sources of antioxidants, dietary fiber, minerals and vitamins.
  • Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin C. Consuming foods rich in vitamin C helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful free radicals.
  • Fresh tomatoes are very rich in potassium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control our heart rate and blood pressure caused by sodium.
  • Tomatoes carry average levels of vital B-complex vitamins such as folates, thiamin, niacin and riboflavin, as well some essential minerals like iron, calcium and manganese.
  • The antioxidants present in tomatoes are scientifically found to be protective against many cancers, including colon, prostate, breast, endometrial, lung and pancreatic tumors.
  • Tomatoes are the richest source of lycopene (the red varieties have the most lycopene), which is important for the health of the prostate gland in men. Lycopene may also offer some defense against skin cancer.
  • Zea-xanthin is another flavonoid compound found abundantly in tomatoes. Zea-xanthin helps protect eyes from "age-related macular degeneration" (ARMD) in the elderly by filtering harmful ultra-violet rays.

I Will Never Not Eat a Tomato book coverAfter dinner, enjoy reading a book with your family. Especially if you have a picky eaters in the family and they don’t like tomatoes or trying new foods, read “I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato” by Lauren Child. This book is fun for kids of all ages, and is definitely one of my all-time favorite books about vegetables. In this book, Lola is a very fussy eater. There are many things Lola won’t eat, especially tomatoes. Lola’s brother, Charlie, has a great imagination and encourages Lola to eat all sorts of foods she is determined not to eat. She won’t eat her carrots until Charlie reveals they’re orange twiglets from Jupiter. She won’t eat her mashed potatoes until Charlie explains they’re cloud fluff from the pointiest peak of Mount Fuji. This is a really creative and funny book for children.

If you want to grow your own juicy, Michigan tomatoes, you can learn more at Michigan Fresh: Growing Tomatoes from Michigan State University Extension.

I hope this has got your taste buds tingling and ready to get some fresh Michigan tomatoes. Enjoy summer and some Michigan tomatoes!

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