Tomatoes: The art of phytochemical pairing

17 Aug 2023

Tomatoes have adorned our tables throughout centuries, reigning as the star of dishes worldwide. Their phytochemicals may contribute to long-term health, especially when harmoniously paired with certain ingredients...

In a Nutshell

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Research Digest

To a meal, tomatoes contribute:

  • Vitamins A, C and B9 and potassium
  • Carotenoids, such as lycopene, which show antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic properties
  • Phenolic acids and flavonoids
  • Water, increasing your daily water intake

Why so red? The red colour of a ripe tomato is due to the accumulation of lycopene during ripening in response to light.

Cooking combinations: These compounds work together with other foods we eat. For example, research shows that lycopene is better absorbed when tomatoes are cooked with olive oil, onions, garlic, leek, Brassica vegetables or shiitake mushroom. They contain compounds, such as fat or sulfur compounds, that modify the chemical structure of lycopene, making it easier for our bodies to use. So traditional tomato dishes like sofrito and gazpacho are not only tasty but may also provide greater health benefits. (Honda et al. Sci Rep. 2019)

As part of our diet: Tomato intake was linked to multiple health outcomes, including a reduced risk of cerebrovascular disease mortality, prostate cancer and gastric cancer, as per a recent umbrella review. (Li et al. Food Chemistry. 2021)

Improved fertility? A diet rich in lycopene was also linked to improved male fertility in small studies. (Li et al. Food Chemistry. 2021)

Plant Tales

The wild tomato: The tomatoes we know today began as small green fruits growing wild in the Andes Mountains of South America around 80,000 years ago. They gradually spread northward to Mexico through human movement, bird migration or natural routes. It was there, around 7,000 years ago, that people began cultivating them, earning the name from the Náhuatl (Aztec) word tomatl.

Going global: In the 16th and 17th centuries, colonisers brought the domesticated tomato back to Europe, where it was first adopted as a food by the Spanish and Italians. In France and northern Europe, it was initially grown as an ornamental plant and thought to be toxic.

The modern tomato: Through the centuries, tomatoes have undergone a long process of domestication and changed much from the wild species. Breeders around the world selected tomato plants for larger fruits, improved colour and yield. Modern cultivars developed in conventional agricultural systems with inorganic fertilizers and excessive pesticides have lost other traits like their beneficial relationships with soil microbes. (Jaiswal et al. Front. Microbiol. 2020)

Tasty Tips

Culinary traditions around the world:

  • Chile 🇨🇱: Pebre, a spicy condiment found on virtually all tables in Chile.
  • Ecuador 🇪🇨: Encebollado de pescado, a fish soup served in some restaurants in the early morning as a hangover cure!
  • Greece 🇬🇷: Horiatiki, the classic Greek feta salad, known as village salad because it uses the simplest ingredients and transforms them with little effort into a finger-licking dish.
  • South Africa 🇿🇦: Chakalaka, a staple one-pot dish made from spices, beans, fresh veggies, onions, pepper and tomatoes.
  • Italy 🇮🇹: Caprese Salad, a gastronomic icon of Campania and Italy.

 4 ways to enjoy tomatoes:

  1. Paired with anchovies, shellfish, aubergine, garlic, onions, olives, thyme or even watermelon!
  2. Stuffed: Filled with a mixture of seasoned whole grains, veggies and cheese and baked until tender.
  3. Salads: Combined with cucumber, feta or mozzarella, chilli, pickled red onion, fresh mint and a lemony dressing.
  4. Summer soup: Blend with cucumber, pepper, onion, extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and top with fresh herbs.

Recipe inspiration for the week:



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