A guide to tomatoes in France, the most popular fruit vegetable. Includes a brief history how they came to Europe, their health benefits, nutrition and easy French tomato recipes.
Available all year around (thanks to greenhouses) but many more varieties are available between June to October in France. High season is at its best between July to September.
Who Brought Tomatoes to Europe?
Originally cultivated in Peru around the 12th century, Hernàn Cortés discovered tomatoes in Mexico in 1521 and brought them back to southern Spain in 1523. They arrived in Europe even before potatoes! (Larousse Gastronomique, French gourmet dictionary).
Its name comes from the Aztec word 'tomatl' then to the Spanish 'tomate'.
According to the gardeners' tours at the King's Vegetable Garden in Versailles, the tomato was first given the reputation in Europe as a toxic plant. It was then classed as an ornamental plant by French botanist, Olivier de Serres (known as 'apple of Peru') as of 1600 and took another hundred years before it was even considered for consumption.
So it wasn't until 1790 that the tomato came to French kitchens, following Spain and Northern Italy (1544). Tomatoes first arrived in the French south via Marseille, Corsica and Provence (known as Pomme d'Amour and Pomme d'Or) then eventually travelled up to Paris thanks to les Marseillais revolutionaries. They asked the inns around the Palais Royal to stock them and gradually tomato recipes became popular around Paris.
Are Tomatoes a Fruit or a Vegetable?
Eaten both raw or cooked, the tomato is the most popular fruit vegetable.
Tomatoes are classified botanically as berries, therefore considered as a fruit.
It's the edible berry of the tomato plant, with its family name, Solanaceae. However, we normally classify tomatoes under vegetables.
What are the Benefits of Eating Tomatoes?
According to the French Ministry of Agriculture's Aprifel, tomatoes are high in vitamins C, A (beta-carotene), B and potassium. Particularly high in water content, they're healthy eaten regularly as low in calories, known as a diuretic and refreshing in summer. Be careful of eating too many, however, as they can have a laxative effect on some people.
As they are classed as slightly acidic for digestion, it's best to add a pinch of sugar. The skin is also known as being difficult to digest and so the skins are often removed before cooking by soaking briefly in boiling water to make peeling easier.
National Tomato Conservatory in France
French Tomato Varieties
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).
The French Ministry of Agriculture announced that more than 35,000 tons of Marmande tomatoes are harvested each year in the region. In February 2023 it's the first French tomato to achieve the official Label Rouge sign of quality and origin.
Most popular varieties in France: vine (tomates grappes), Noire de Crimée, Ananas (yellow pineapple), Coeur de Boeuf, Roma.
When were Cherry Tomatoes Introduced?
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.
How to Store Tomatoes
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.
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 Oven 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 to put on Raw Tomatoes
When tomatoes are so fresh and full of flavour, simply slice raw tomatoes 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.
How do you Make a Tomato Salad?
For the simplest, most tasty tomato salad, chop 3-4 fresh tomatoes (preferably in season as they have more flavour) at room temperature.
Toss together with finely chopped spring onion or a shallot, fresh herbs (mixture of flat parsley, basil), a tablespoon of olive oil, a few turns of the pepper mill and a good pinch of salt fleur de sel or Maldon salt flakes.
Why did the tomato blush? Because it saw the salad dressing.From my niece, Emily
Tomatoes are the main ingredient for a French Tian of roasted summer vegetables.
Tomatoes are also one of the main ingredients in the French speciality from Nice, the classic Niçoise Salad. Discover the other authentic ingredients which may be surprising!
Have fun at any time of year by turning cherry tomatoes into a delicious talking point for apéritif (pre-dinner drinks). These candied cherry tomatoes are dipped briefly into a salted toffee then coated with poppy or sesame seeds.
Sliced tomatoes are roasted to prepare an elegant starter or appetizer. Get the easy recipe for oven roasted tomatoes with mozzarella.
For the best authentic Italian recipes for tomatoes, see Christina's Cucina for Caprese Salad or the best homemade pizza sauce. As an Italian, Christina also explains how to find the best canned Italian tomatoes in the USA.
Add freshly chopped tomatoes at the end of cooking to this pure vegetable soup.
A simple tomato sauce makes this Corsican cheese lasagna extra special. Try it for a taste of Corsica with that touch of mint.
Tomatoes form the basis of this Mediterranean style sauce with garlic, onions, white wine and a splash of Cognac to make the classic Monkfish stew (Lotte à l'Américaine). This also works well with any kind of meaty white fish such as Mahi-Mahi.