By Michelle Fabio
In the English language, we know our favorite fruit as a tomato, but the Italians call it something completely different: “il pomodoro.” Doesn’t it just roll off your tongue?
But where does that name come from?
First we need to go back to the beginning. Although tomatoes are a relatively new addition to the dinner table, the Italians were some of the first to regularly use (and love) these strange fruits brought from The New World to Europe–the English and Americans still thought they were poisonous for another couple hundred years.
And so it is only fitting that the Italian name for the tomato reflects its golden status in the culture’s cuisine. One theory is that the reference to “oro” (gold) comes from the color of those early tomato skins or from the verb “adorare” (to adore).
It should also be noted that around the time the tomato was gaining popularity in Italy, an elaborate Antonio Cesti opera named “Il Pomo d’Oro” was performed for the Viennese wedding of Emperor Leopold I and the Infanta Margherita of Spain; it featured a golden apple inscribed “to the most beautiful.” So we can see that “pomo d’oro” was a term floating around at the time–and it had a rather amorous connotation.
But some say that the “pomo d’oro” explanation is merely a mistranslation by English-speaking historians and that the Italians had called the tomato the same as they had called the eggplant before it: “pomo di moro,” or fruit of the Moors, who were known for introducing exotic products.
Indeed, my favorite legend builds on this theory. The story goes that one night a traveling Frenchman had enjoyed his dinner so much that he went to ask the chef about the dish. The Italian chef told him he had used “pomo di moro” but the Frenchman understood in his own language “pomme d’amour”–the apple of love.
Whatever the true origin of the word “pomodoro” it seems that love, beauty, and other good things were never far behind–and that’s something that makes complete sense to us modern tomato lovers.