Tomatoes are native to South America and were originally grown for their decorative purposes.
Tomatoes are actually fruit but they are considered a vegetable because of their uses. They were known as pommes d’amour by the French, or apples of love.
Fresh New Zealand tomatoes are ripened on the vine year-round in greenhouses. These are mainly located around Auckland, the central North Island, Nelson and Christchurch, and smaller quantities in other regions. A small volume is grown outdoors in summer.
Most growers use soil-less media, planting into pumice or sawdust filled plastic bags or buckets, or in rock wool or cocopeat slabs. These are all hydroponic or semi-hydroponic systems. Many heat their greenhouses for frost protection or for total environment control to achieve increased yield, a reduction in disease issues, and to maintain consistent quality.
There is a large range of specialty and pre-packed tomatoes available. Most tomato varieties are of Dutch origin and are selected for flavour, quality, colour and size.
Tomatoes on the vine, or on the truss, are popular. Small, medium and large tomatoes are sold on the truss. There are many different vine varieties; as a general rule vine varieties have a very intense flavour.
These have a sweet intense flavour and are very popular with children. Several different varieties are on the market. Coloured red or yellow, the shape varies from round to oval to pear shaped. Small plum tomatoes are particularly sweet and higher in acid.
Plum, low acid and Roma tomatoes
These tomatoes are oval or plum shaped, have firmer flesh, fewer seeds and less juice than standard varieties, making them ideal for cooking. They come in differing shapes and sizes. Levels of acid vary with variety and no tomato is entirely acid free. Large plum varieties are often known as Roma.
These make up a very small percentage (around 1%) of the total tomato crop and tend to be less firm than greenhouse- grown tomatoes. They have a lumpier and flatter shape and tend to be available from January to April.
What to look for
Choose smooth, firm and plump tomatoes with an even colour and no blemishes. For best flavour make sure the fruits are fully red.
Tomatoes should be stored at room temperature out of direct sunlight. Tomatoes will ripen in these conditions. Do not refrigerate unless they are over ripe. Refrigerated tomatoes do not have the full flavour of tomatoes stored at room temperature.
How to prepare
Sometimes recipes suggest removal of the skin and seeds of the tomato for a very fine sauce, however this is not necessary for most dishes.
Ways to eat
Tomatoes are very versatile, they can be eaten raw as snacks, in salads and sandwiches. They can be used in soups, pizzas, omelettes, braises and stews. Tomatoes preserve well and are easily frozen and bottled, made into homemade sauces, chutneys, and dried or sundried. Tomatoes are complemented by many herbs, especially basil. Click here for recipes.
Suggested cooking methods
Boil, braise, barbecue/char grill, microwave, slow roast, stir fry.
Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin C and a source of vitamin A (from beta-carotene) and contain a dietary significant amount of potassium. Tomatoes contain many different phytonutrients; the most well-known being the carotenoid lycopene, responsible for the red colour. It is of interest as it is found in few other foods and is being studied for a range of potential health benefits. Other carotenoids, particularly beta-carotene, are also found together with phenolic acids and flavonoids.