Tomatoes are technically a fruit, but are treated like vegetables in gardening and cooking. Tomatoes were domesticated long ago by Native peoples in Mexico. Just when domestication occurred is not known, but many varieties were grown at the time of the Spanish invasions, so domestication must go back centuries before then.
The name comes from Nahuatl “tomatl” which entered Spanish as “tomate” and eventually into English. Nahuatl was the language spoken by the Aztecs, who were also called the Mexica, who gave their name to Mexico.
Tomatoes were taken back to Europe shortly after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire in 1521. The tomato was for a long time used as a decorative plant, not as a food. Tomatoes did not become part of Italian cuisine until the later 1600s and early 1700s, and did not appear on many tables in Europe until even later. For many decades, tomatoes were considered poisonous, and as late as about 1900 in the American South they were called “Love apples” and were regarded with suspicion.
The large number of delicious dishes featuring tomato sauces or sliced tomatoes is a fairly recent development in food history. Today’s tomato crop worldwide is close to 200 million tons. The largest production of this originally American food is in China and India.
Pronunciation remains mildly controversial. Tah-MAY-toe is the usual American pronunciation, and Toe-MAH-toe is the common British pronunciation. However you choose to pronounce, this Mexican food has made a huge contribution to cuisine worldwide.
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