What Everyone Should Know About Tomatoes

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There are a few foods that just scream “summer”—ice cream, burgers on the grill, corn on the cob, and the fresh, red, ripe, juicy, and flavorful tomatoes! Our food system has come a long way to get us fresh produce all year ‘round, but a tomato from the store in the winter isn’t even in the same league as a homegrown summer tomato. Let’s learn why you should be getting your fill of these fruits (yes, technically, tomatoes are fruits) while they’re ripe for the pickin’!

What do they look like?

The classic tomato is about the size and shape of a baseball and bright orangey-red in color. It has a very smooth, almost shiny skin with a small, spiky green stem. Inside is a soft, watery, red flesh.

But that’s the “classic” tomato—tomatoes come in almost every size, shape, and color of the rainbow! There are tiny green and yellow striped tomatoes that look like they’re wearing zebra print. There are giant, bumpy tomatoes that are as pale and white as a ghost. There are also giant heirloom tomatoes colored so dark purple they look black. If you can dream up a funky looking tomato—chances are, it’s out there!

What do they taste like?

The taste of tomatoes can vary as much as their appearance! The typical tomato flavor is slightly sweet, rich, and acidic. If you don’t think you like tomatoes, we encourage you to try a few more varieties. You can find some tomatoes that are so incredibly sweet they actually do taste like a fruit. And some tomatoes that aren’t very acidic at all. If texture is your issue, some tomatoes are watery and some tomatoes are so meaty and dense that you can use them almost like meat on sandwich! We think there’s a tomato out there for everyone (well, unless you are allergic)…

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Why are they good for me?

Tomatoes have a ton of health benefits, but the biggest benefit of eating a diet rich in tomatoes is getting a hefty dose of the antioxidant lycopene. The list of benefits of lycopene is a mile long, but the highlights include a reduced risk of heart disease, support of bone health (especially in women who are at risk for osteoporosis), cancer-fighting (especially in cancers of the breast, prostate and lung), and a reduced risk of neurological diseases including Alzheimer’s.

When and where do I get them?

Tomatoes are available all year at almost all grocery stores, but our recommendation is to skip the pink, flavorless tomatoes in the produce section in the winter and instead focus on getting your fill of fresh tomatoes when they are at their peak of flavor and nutrition in the summer. If you need tomatoes during the winter, check out some of the higher-quality tomato options available in the canned goods section. Those tomatoes are preserved at the peak of freshness and nutrition.

Right now, you can probably find tomatoes at almost all the farmer’s markets and farm stands in your area. Make sure to branch out and try some fun heirloom varieties that many farmers grow.

How do I prepare tomatoes?

Tomatoes are one of the most widely-used produce items in the kitchen. You can eat them raw in salads, on sandwiches, or by themselves. You can cook them into soups, stews, and chilis. You can turn them into sauces for pasta and casseroles. You can make them into salsas and dips. There’s really no wrong way to prepare a tomato!

See more: The Essential Summer Cooking Bucket List

What are some good recipes?

What’s your favorite way to eat tomatoes?

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Cassie Johnston is an award-winning food writer and recipe developer living and working in Southern Indiana. Her work has been feature in national publications such as Gourmet Magazine and The Huffington Post. Cassie’s a big fan of strenuous hikes, cheese, watching sports, Brussels sprouts, and craft beer, and she’ll talk your ear off about her love of local food and seasonal eating. She’s obsessed with social media and loves connecting with new friends!

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