Although we typically see about 4 or 5 varieties of tomatoes in the supermarket – steak tomatoes, tomatoes-on-the-vine, plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes (yellow and red), there are actually more than 5000 varieties of tomatoes grown for various purposes. These varieties can be divided roughly into several categories, based on shape and size:
1. Beefsteak – large tomatoes often used for sandwiches and similar applications. Their kidney-bean shape, thinner skin and shorter shelf life makes commercial use impractical.
2. Plum tomatoes – Oblong shape and bred with higher solid content for use in tomato sauce and paste.
3. Pear tomatoes – Pear shaped and based on San Marzano types for a richer gourmet paste.
4. Cherry tomatoes – Small and round, often sweet and usually used in salads.
5. Grape tomatoes – Small and oblong and usually used in salads.
6. Campari tomatoes – Known for their sweetness and juiciness, low acidity and lack of mealiness. Bigger than cherry tomatoes but smaller than plum tomatoes.
Buying and Storing Tomatoes
Most tomatoes are picked before they are fully ripened. They are bred to continue ripening after being picked. But the enzyme that ripens tomatoes naturally stops working in environments where temperatures are below 54°F (12°C).
When tomatoes are not fully ripened, they are best stored at room temperature uncovered and away from direct sunlight for about 3 to 4 days. Once fully ripened, tomatoes can be stored in the refrigerator for a few more days up to a week before they start breaking down.
Health Benefits of Tomatoes
When our body uses oxygen, free radicals are produced, which causes certain damages. This process is called oxidative damage. Oxidative damage can contribute to heart problems, diabetes, cancer and other diseases. This harmful process can be slowed down and prevented by antioxidants.
Tomatoes contain enormous amounts of lycopene, one of the most powerful antioxidants. The word “Lycopene” is actually derived from the Greek word “Lykopersikon” which means tomato. Lycopene has been shown to improve the skin’s ability to protect against harmful UV rays. And some studies have shown that tomato consumption has been associated with decreased risk of breast cancer, head and neck cancers and might be strongly protective against neurodegenerative diseases.
Other red foods that contain lycopene are watermelon, red grapes, carrots and papayas. Our body does not produce lycopene naturally. So be sure to eat reds!