Tomato is a deep red pulpy fruit which comes from the Lycopersicon esculentum plant. According to botanical classification, it belongs to the Solanaceae family. Botanically, tomato is considered to be an edible fruit but when it comes to the cooking practices it is largely considered a vegetable. This fruit originated in South America and has spread all over the world. At present there are at least 7500 different varieties of tomatoes known to us. This fruit is liked because of its tangy taste and is used to prepare a wide range of dishes like jam, sauce, pickles, juice, curries etc.
Nutritional Benefits of Tomatoes
- Tomatoes provide a lower amount of calories and fats and at the same time they are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. An intake of this fruit is recommended to people who are obese and those suffering from higher levels of cholesterol.
- It is a rich source of phyto-nutrients named lycopene and beta-carotene. The cell walls of tomato contain Lycopene which acts as an antioxidant protecting the cells and its structures from oxygen free radicals. According to the studies performed by Dr. Edward Giovannucci, Harvard School of Public Health, Cambridge, Massachusetts, this nutrient lycopene, protects us from many kinds of cancers like the prostate cancer.
- Lycopene prevents heart diseases.
- Lycopene is associated with the prevention of age-related macular degeneration
- Cooking practices like heating or frying it in a little bit oil, does not spoil the nutritional value of tomato. Lycopene is fat soluble hence cooking in a little bit of oil, releases this nutrient from the cell walls of tomatoes to a greater extent.
- Intake of tomatoes helps to maintain the Sodium/potassium balance as they provide a lower concentration of sodium and at the same time are richer in potassium. This in turn regulates the blood pressure and allows the cell to function normally.
- Tomatoes are richer in two vital vitamins which are Vitamin A and C. Hence they are good for eyes and maintenance of mucus membrane of the skin. They help in developing resistance against infectious agents.
- It helps in curing the blisters and ulcers of mouth.
These are some of the innumerable health benefits associated with intake of tomatoes. Many nutritional facts are still being researched. It is good to include this vegetable in our daily diet. As cooking practices do not spoil the nutritional value of this fruit it can be preserved in many ways to get the taste of tomatoes all the year-round. Some preservation methods have been described below.
Preservation of Tomatoes
Tomatoes can be preserved in various ways so that the flavor, taste and nutritional value are retained. The preservation techniques help us to get the tangy taste of tomatoes even when the price of tomatoes reaches the sky. Various home based methods which increase the shelf life of tomatoes have been discussed below.
The techniques discussed below depend on the kind of tomatoes chosen. Red tomatoes which have a very high content of vitamins have to be plucked from the garden during sunrise. During this time the fruits are still cool as the temperatures are low during the past night. Care should be taken to discard those tomatoes which have any kind of black spots. The tomatoes should be properly cleaned with water and should be kept away from prolonged exposure to sunlight before the preparation as this would spoil the tomatoes.
Preparation of Peeled Tomato Preserves
These peeled tomatoes can be used to prepare sauce all the year-round. To prepare this, the tomatoes are gently dipped into hot boiling water for 30 seconds. Soon after this the tomatoes are removed from the cooking pot with the help of a sieve and plunged immediately into cold water for few minutes. This helps to loosen the skin of tomatoes. After this the skin of tomatoes is completely peeled. Clean and dried jars are used to store the peeled tomatoes. Tomatoes are allowed to fit snugly against each other by tapping the bottom of the jar. Lemon juice without the pips is extracted and added to the jars. The amount of lemon juice to be added comes to one coffee-spoonful per half-liter of the jar. The jar is filled up with some amount of hot tomato pulp. The jars are then tightly screwed and allowed for sterilization in hot boiling water for a span of 45 minutes. These jars are allowed to cool and then cleaned and dried. These jars can be stored in a cool dry place and should be consumed within a span of one year.
Preparation of Tomato Pulp
Good tomatoes are chosen and cut into two halves to check for rotten tomatoes. An extractor is used to separate pulp from the seeds and the skin of the tomatoes. As an alternative to an extractor the tomatoes can also be cut into very small pieces and squashed. The seeds and the skin can also be separated with the help of a sieve. These steps can be repeated several times to maximize the yield. The extracted pulp is subjected to pre-heating at low temperature. This pulp is then filled into the jars along with a spoonful of lemon juice. These jars have to be sterilized for a span of 45 minutes.
Preparation of Dried Tomatoes
The tomatoes are cut lengthwise into two halves. The seeds are to be carefully removed using hands or spoons. These pips or seeds can be later sun-dried and used to grow the next crop of tomato plants. After this the tomatoes are further cut into small and uniform sizes measuring approximately one centimeter in thickness. These tomato pieces are sun-dried. This technique preserves the tomatoes for a span of three months.
To preserve the tomatoes for more than three months further processing is involved. Water containing a spoonful of salt and preservatives like citric acid powder is boiled. Addition of salt and preservatives prevents the tomatoes from getting blackened during the drying process.
The small pieces of tomatoes and their slices are subjected to the process of blanching. In order to blanch tomatoes, they are put into a clean cloth or a basket and plunged into the above mentioned boiling water for three minutes. Blanching is a preservation technique wherein vegetables are boiled before drying to kill the enzymes which spoil the food. After blanching tomato pieces are drained and then sun-dried with the help of dryers for at least two and a half days. The dried tomatoes are later gathered and cooled for half an hour in a shady place so that they do not release moisture while packing. These tomatoes are then packed into a polythene bags which are later kept into cardboard boxes containing straw. This protects the tomatoes from dampness and preserves them for one year.
Some other ways by which tomatoes can be preserved are by making puree, sauce, jam or pickle.
This deep red fruit not only activates your taste buds but it also encompasses some very wonderful nutritional and medicinal properties. It is a boon for those who want to reduce weight as it can be taken as salad during any time of the day. This fruit has the power to fight against many diseases and at the same time does not lose its nutritional significance upon cooking. With so many advantages associated with this fruit should we not make this a part of our daily diet?