Everything there is to know about the fruit of the sun
The discovery of the tomato has represented for the history of eating something that is like the French Revolution for the development of the social conscience.
The discovery of the tomato
The discovery of the tomato goes back to the first half of 500’s, when the Spanish conquerors landed in Central and South America.
The cultivation of the tomato plant (Lycopersicon esculentum var. cerasiforme) was in fact already popular in the pre-Colombian period in Mexico and in Peru: Aztecs and Incas could be defined as the oldest cultivators of this vegetable used in the Mediterranean cuisine.
In spite of the New World, the tomato was part of the daily diet of the local people. The wild tomato plant was imported to Europe exclusively as a decorative plant.
Success of the tomato over the centuries
At the beginning of 1600, after almost a century after its discovery, the tomato was not yet known/accepted as an edible vegetable. There was the strong conviction that it was poisonous, like other solanaceous plants such as the mandrake/mandragora and the deadly nightshade/belladonna. It was the beginning of the tasting/sampling of thetomato subject to a type of medical observation. Italy was an exception in the consideration that the tomato was only a pleasant ornament. In fact, already at the end of the 500’s, tomatoes fried in oil with salt were consumed a century before the European continent. At the end of the 600’s, in the Napolitano region, the first tomato-based recipes became popular/were created which, however, continue to be ignored by famous/important chefs.
Only at the end of the 700’s the cultivation of the tomato as a food to be consumed was given a strong boost in Europe, mainly in the South of France and Italy. While in France, the tomato was only consumed in the courts of the Kings, in the South of Italy, it was a staple food for the poor people. In 1762, the conservation technique of the tomato was determined, after studies by Lazzaro Spallanzani who was the first to notice that when the vegetable was boiled and then placed in a closed container, the taste did not change or spoil.
From the 1800’s, the tomato began to be cultivated in more temperate European regions (Southern Italy, Southern France and Spain) and also began to be exported towards the North, where it stopped being an expensive privilege for few people.
The fruit of love
The tomato became mysteriously attributed to having arousal powers and being an aphrodisiac and, for this reason, was included in brews and magic potions made by the alchemists in the 500’s and 600’s.
Maybe this helps us also to understand the names that the different European languages attributed to this plant that came from the New World: love apple in English, pomme d’amour in French, Libesapfel in German and pomo d’oro in Italian, names that were given by Andrea Mattioli in 1554; all definitions with an explicit reference to love. In France, men used to offer tomato plants to ladies as a sign of their affection. The great writer Manuel Vascquez Montalbàn in his immoral Recipes wrote “(…) Don’t make war, but bread and tomatoes (…) Everywhere and always.”.
Today, with the exception of Italian, the old expressions have been substituted in all the other languages by derivations of the original term azteco tomatl.
A tomato a day…
The tomato is a precious ally for your health.
The king of Italian cuisine is considered to be fundamental for correct diet/nutrition by nutritionists: low in fats, rich in vitamins and mineral salts, plays an important role in anti-oxidation and has positive effects on the heart and arteries.
The tomato, a light food, rich in minerals, highly nutritional and full of taste, is essential to guarantee good nutritional balance and thanks to it detoxification and regenerating actions is essential for daily health.
The tomato is also rich in lycopene: a strong natural antioxidant, that gives the fruit its red colour. Thanks to the beneficial actions of the lycopene, the cells are protected against external agents that could be the cause of numerous disorders/disturbances like: arteriosclerosis, digestion and intestinal problems. The lycopene also helps the skin to protect it against direct radiation, responsible for the aging process and many tumorous pathologies.
Tomato – its nutritional characteristics
The calorie content of the tomato is naturally low (contains only 16 kcal per 100g), for this reason it is particularly suitable in a weight-loss diet, thanks to its high water content.
The tomato has a high vitamin level: its red colour indicates a presence of lycopene, an excellent natural antioxidant which develops its healthy characteristics by cooking, and beta-carotene, which stimulates the production of melanin necessary for tanning.
On average, 100g of fresh tomato is composed of:
• 93% water
• 2,9% carbohydrates
• 0,2% fats
• 1% protein
• 1,8% fibre
The art of creating Saclà Sun Dried Tomatoes
Visit any village in either of Italy’s most southerly regions, Calabria or Puglia and, if it is August, you will find rows of tomatoes, all cut in half, outside the front door of every house. They are laid there, covered by nets to keep the flies away, to dry in the hot Italian sun, and the air in the village is permeated with their characteristic smell. This is a tradition which has lasted for centuries and it is a way to preserve part of tomato production through winter time.
It is strange that this should have been taking place for many, many generations, and yet it was only a few years ago that the rest of the world discovered how delicious these dried tomatoes are. Now the demand for them has grown enormously, but this demand is still largely met by a small number of local producers.
Sun Dried Tomatoes
Huge quantities of tomatoes come from the Mediterranean regions, yet only a small proportion of the crops are used for sun dried tomatoes. By far the majority are canned or made into sauces.
In early spring the soil is prepared using natural fertilizers. Selecting the best fields to use is extremely important. Those surrounded by olive trees are ideal, as they help to make the soil very fertile. During the second half of April selected seedlings are planted. Irrigation is needed to ensure that every plant receives enough water.
Flocks of locals, mostly women, descend on the fields and start the back- breaking work of harvesting the tomatoes, picking the bright red jewels that are hidden among the green foliage of these low-growing varieties.
The best specimens are then selected for drying.
It takes 11kg of fresh tomatoes to obtain just 1Kg of dried product.
After the drying process, the tomatoes journey north to Asti where they are used as an important ingredient in Saclà’s products. An increasing number are marinated in a specially seasoned, aromatic oil to make Saclà L’Antipasto Sun-Dried Tomatoes, a delicacy so good that it is fast becoming a favourite even with the Italians, who for so many years have painstakingly made their own sun-dried tomatoes.
Others are finely chopped to form a concentrated burnished mahogany-coloured paste, which lends a deep, rich unmistakable flavour to the Saclà range of sauces. The result is that whatever the time of the year, and no matter how inclement the weather, you can bring the real flavour of far away, sun-drenched regions right into your kitchen!