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Tomatoes (tomates)

Interesting facts about French tomatoes, a brief history how they came to France, their health benefits, nutrition and easy recipes. The most popular fruit vegetable.

French market stall of fresh red tomatoes

Tomato Season

Available all year around (thanks to greenhouses) but high season has many more varieties available between April – September.

Interesting Facts about Tomatoes

  • Eaten both raw or cooked, the tomato is the most popular French fruit vegetable. Classified botanically as berries (therefore fruit), it’s the edible berry of the tomato plant (Solanaceae family). However, we normally classify it under vegetables;
  • Cortés discovered the tomato in Mexico in 1521 and brought it back to Spain then Italy. So its name comes from the Aztec word tomatl to the Spanish tomate;
  • The tomato doesn’t come to France until 1600 when Olivier de Serres classes it as an ornamental plant. It’s not until the mid 18th century that the tomato comes to French kitchens, thanks to the Italians. Tomatoes then arrive in the south via Marseille, Corsica and Provence then eventually travel up to Paris;
  • According to Aprifel, tomatoes are high in vitamin C, A (beta-carotene), B and potassium.  Classed as slightly acidic for digestion so add a pinch sugar;
  • Cherry tomatoes were created in Israel in 1980 (Wexler, University of Pennsylvania 2016) and contain 33 calories per 100g compared to 20 calories for other tomato varieties;
  • France has a National Tomato Conservatory with over 700 vintage varieties – see more in my article on the Loire Valley;
  • One of the oldest French varieties is ‘la Marmande’, which appeared in 1863 in the Lot-et-Garonne, where there is an annual tomato festival, la fête de Marmande (1st weekend every July);
  • Most popular varieties in France: vine (tomates grappes), Noire de Crimée, Ananas (yellow pineapple), Coeur de Boeuf;
  • Store them outside the fridge for 3-4 days with their stalk (pédoncule in French) intact. When lifting tomatoes at the market, lift with its stalk.

large fresh tomatoes at the market, known as Poivrons in French, as the colour of red or orange peppers

How to Concentrate Tomato Flavour

Bought tomatoes and disappointed that they lack flavour? Alas, this happens too often when store-bought and they are not always packed with flavour at all times of year.

So the solution? Make these easy Roasted Tomatoes: simply slice them and bake in the oven for a few minutes with a little olive oil and seasoning. It can turn the humblest tomato into an elegant starter for a dinner party.

What Can I put on Raw Tomatoes?

When tomatoes are so fresh and full of flavour, simply slice them and enjoy them raw. Top with a drizzling of good olive oil, a few turns of the salt and pepper mill.  Even better, sprinkle over some finely chopped fresh aromatic herbs such as basil, thyme or tarragon. Add slices of mozzarella to make a simple Italian Caprese Salad.

mixed tomato salad topped with fresh herbs and tossed in finely chopped onions and shiny olive oil

How do you Make a Tomato Salad?

Chop 3-4 tomatoes and some cherry tomatoes (at room temperature). Toss together with finely chopped spring onion, fresh herbs (mixture of flat parsley, basil) with some olive oil, a few turns of the peppermill, a good pinch of salt fleur de sel and just a small pinch of sugar.

Joke


Thanks to my niece, Emily:

Why did the tomato blush? Because it saw the salad dressing. 

Tomato Recipes

Tomato conservatory, Loire

From the kitchen