Posted on 30 July 2007 by

The Tomato: A Relatively New Addition to the Dinner Table


The Tomato: A Relatively New Addition to the Dinner Table

By Michelle Fabio

We know tomatoes as juicy, tasty, and simply delicious, but it wasn’t always this way.

The tomato is said to have been around since as early as 700 A.D. growing wild in the Andes of South America and cultivated by Incas and Aztecs; somehow tomatoes eventually ended up in Central America, and when the Spanish began colonizing America, they took red, seedy fruit to the Caribbean, the Philippines, Asia, and, of course, Europe.

By the 16th century, tomatoes were widely grown and eaten throughout the Mediterranean region where the climate was perfect for growing. Indeed, the earliest tomato recipe can be found in a cookbook from Naples, Italy–although the culinary secrets may be Spanish in origin.

The tomato wasn’t welcomed as kindly in Britain or North America, though, where many people thought the strange plant was poisonous because it is a member of the nightshade family–which can be deadly when ingested. We now know that a tomato plant’s leaves and stems can be poisonous, but the fruit, the tomato, is edible.

It wasn’t until the mid to late 1700s that the tomato became popular in its native hemisphere. Third United States President Thomas Jefferson, having eaten tomatoes in Paris, is said to have begun growing them in Virginia in 1781–within another 50 years, American cookbooks were full of tomato recipe offerings.

So, actually, although the tomato has been around for over a thousand years, it has only recently become a common sight in gardens and on dinner tables.

Thank goodness for progress!

9 Responses to “The Tomato: A Relatively New Addition to the Dinner Table”

  1. meredith Says:

    I love tomatoes and am adding this site to my favorites

  2. michelle Says:

    Good to know Meredith! I think you’ll like it around here 🙂

  3. Wanderlust Scarlett Says:

    That’s really cool! I didn’t know any of that!

    I had heard that they were thought to be poisonous in Europe for a while when people used lead based dishes/flatware, as the acid in the tomatoes reacted with the lead and THAT had a lethal effect, but other than this ‘history’ (not sure if it’s true), I didn’t know it’d had such a rich and widespread history!
    Thank you!


  4. michelle Says:

    Hi Scarlett, so nice to see you here!

    If you’d like to read more about the tomato acid/lead-based dishes theory, check out Life in the 1500s on one of my favorite sites,

    There are lots of interesting tidbits in that piece, but about half to three-quarters of the way down, you’ll see the truth behind the legend 🙂

  5. Jen Says:

    Fascinating history – I didn’t know about the growing origins. And I love tomatoes – I could just eat them all summer long and nothing else!

  6. michelle Says:

    I’m with you there Jen! Glad you enjoyed this piece, and thanks for stopping by 🙂

  7. » i’m a tomato blogger! Says:

    […] over to and check out my post, The Tomato: A Relatively New Addition to the Dinner Table, and then click on the home page to see all the […]

  8. Tooraroutle Says:

    What is bumburbia?

  9. Dave Miller Says:

    Men need lypocene – from tomatoes

    I currently have

    Brandywine – pink heirloom
    Early Girl
    San Marzano – plum
    Jubilee – gold
    Peace – cherry
    and several others.

    Nothing like fresh tomatoes

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