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TOMATOES AND ITALY, A LOVESTORY

The exact date of tomato plants’ domestication is unknown, although, by 500 BC, it was already being cultivated in southern Mexico and probably other Central and South America’s areas. A thousand years later, when they arrived in Italy, tomato plants were sold for their beauty, grown only in vases, gardens and flower beds. Some varieties were toxic or inedible and people were discouraged from attempting to eat them either fresh or cooked. Until Italians found the edible varieties, and it was true love from that day on. (more)

The first ‘culinary’ mention dates back to 1544: Pietro Andrea Gregorio Mattioli, a doctor and naturalist born in Siena in 1501, wrote in his Discorsi ("Commentaries") on the Materia Medica of Dioscorides, published that year, that there was a new species that could be cooked like eggplants and mushrooms, fried with oil, salt, and pepper. Ten years later he called them pomi d’oro (golden pomes) probably because tomatoes and tomatillos were imported at the same time and most tomatillos are yellow. Or maybe because he understood the value of this new species. In the 1500s, Italy was the most civilized country in Europe, creator of culture and trends, so it is easy to understand how tomatoes were immediately exported in Northern Europe.

At the end of the 1700s, we have the first documents that describe tomato sauces and preserved pastes; the first written record of pasta with tomato sauce can be found in the 1790 cookbook L'Apicio Moderno by Roman chef Francesco Leonardi. A few decades later the first Spaghetti al Pomodoro appeared in Naples, along with Pizza Margherita. Before tomato sauce was introduced, pasta was eaten dry with the fingers, like soft bread, and that is why we have so many photos of people eating spaghetti that way. The introduction of the liquid tomato sauce demanded the use of a fork.

More than four hundred years later, this fruit is one of the most important ingredients in Italian cuisine. Can you imagine life without it?

A couple of facts: 95% of a tomato is water, but it is rich with vitamins (B1, B2, H, E, P and a lot of A and C), one more reason to have some in the refrigerators at all times. There are at least 7,500 tomato varieties, and the plants need seven hours of sunlight a day to grow properly

There are several Italian areas that grow tomatoes with Protected Geographical Status. These include: (1) Pomodoro di Pachino (PGI), in Sicily; (2) Pomodoro San Marzano dell'Agro Sarnese-Nocerino (PDO), and (3) Pomodorino del Piennolo del Vesuvio (PDO), in Mount Vesuvius’ area. California accounts for 90% of U.S. production of plum tomatoes and 35% of world production.