Monday, October 17, 2011

Did You Know? Facts About Tomatoes

Tomatoes have been grown and used in the world throughout the ages. They can be used raw in salads and garnishing, they can be processed into pastes, ketchups, and sauces. Green unripe tomatoes can also be fried, pickled, or used to make salsa.

Tomatoes can also be squeezed into juices, and used in alcoholic drinks like the bloody mary. Botanically, a tomato is a berry which is a subset of fruit but it has often, for culinary reasons, been called a vegetable, due to its savory flavor. I hope that settles the argument.

Tomatoes form a large part of Euro Mediterranean cuisine. This is most visible in Middle Eastern and Italian food. Pizza is incomplete without a shred of tomato while pasta sauces are predominantly made from this heavenly fruit. Both Spanish and Catalan cuisine have been noted for their love of tomatoes in their food.

Tomatoes have a high level of acidity and this makes them ideal for preservation by canning. They can be canned either wholly, in parts or even as pastes or sauces. The tomato fruit can also be preserved by sun drying. It is often sold in bags or soaked in jars of specifically olive oil.

Modern hybrids of tomatoes concentrate on bettering their resistance to diseases. A common disease that affects tomatoes is the tobacco mosaic virus. This is the reason why smoking and using of tobacco near tomatoes is discouraged. The jury is still out on whether the virus can indeed survive burning and the conversion to smoke.

Tomato blight, as the name suggests, is a disease that affects tomatoes. Mildew is another disease common to tomatoes. These diseases have led to tomato cultivars being marked with letters that signify the exact disease resistance that they have.

The letters that are common are T, for tobacco mosaic virus, FF, for fusarium wilt strain and so on.

More deadly tomato diseases include curly top. This disease cuts short the lifecycle of the plant by causing the top most leaves to wrinkle and grow in a deformed manner hence the name. This disease is usually passed from one plant to another by the beet leafhopper.

Pests are the bane of the plant kingdom and the tomato is not spared here. A very common tomato pest is the stink bug. This stink bug as the name suggests is a foul smelling insect that latches onto the tomato and proceeds to devour it.

Other common pests are tomato hornworms, cabbage loopers, tomato fruitworms, red spider mite, tobacco hornworms, flea red beetles, whiteflies and even slugs. When these bugs attack the tomato plants, they secrete the plant hormone systemin.

This hormone sets off a defense mechanism like the production of protease which inhibits or slows the growth of the attacking insects. This defensive hormone was first encountered and identified in tomatoes but has since been seen in other plant species.

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