Meet Your Ingredients: Tomatoes

Meet Your Ingredients: Tomatoes

At their juiciest during the peak of summer, tomatoes are a nutritious and flavorful kitchen-staple. Get all you need to know on which type of tomato to use when, nutritional benefits, and tips for storing! 

About tomatoes

Technically a fruit, tomatoes are used more like vegetables in cooking due to their savory flavor profile. 

Native to South America, tomatoes are now grown all over the world and are a favorite with many home gardeners. 

Flavorwise, tomatoes have a mix of sweet and acidic notes, with the ratio of the two varying by the type of tomato. 

Nutrition overview of tomatoes

As with many fruits and vegetables, tomatoes are primarily water. The rest is mostly carbohydrate, including sugar and fiber. 

They are also incredibly nutrient-rich, containing good amounts of potassium, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate (vitamin B9), and numerous antioxidants, including lycopene. 

A type of carotenoid, lycopene is responsible for the red (or sometimes orangish-red) color of tomatoes. Some of the health benefits associated with lycopene include: 

  • Protection against heart disease
  • Decreased cancer risk
  • Skin protection against sun damage 

While all tomatoes and tomato products are high in lycopene, in general, the redder the tomato, the higher its concentration of lycopene. 

How to select: types of tomatoes

While there are more than 15,000 varieties of tomatoes (yes, 15,000), we’ll review the 8 most common types that you’re likely to come across at the grocery store or farmer’s market. 

  • Cherry: sweet, juicy and crisp. Best used for salads, grilling, kabobs, and snacking. 
  • Grape: crisp, tart, and hold their shape well when cooked. Best used for salads, sandwiches, roasting, grilling, and snacking. 
  • Green beefsteak: tart and tangy flavor with a wide variety of uses. Best used for juicing, baking, pickling, grilling, on sandwiches, in salsa, and sauces. 
  • Heirloom: can be sweet or tart with a juicy, meaty texture. Best used for salads, sandwiches, grilling, and roasting. 
  • Red beefsteak: mild, classic tomato flavor that break down when cooked. Best used for burgers, sandwiches, salsas, dips, and sauces. 
  • Roma: tangy with a denser texture. Best used for sauces, salads and sandwiches. 
  • Tomatillos: vibrant and tangy. Best used for salsas, roasting, grilling, and sauces. While not technically a tomato, culinarily it’s used similarly.
  • Tomatoes on the vine: strong classic tomato flavor with a balance of sweet and acidic. Best used for soups, sauces, salads, grilling, baking, and jams. 

How to store tomatoes 

Unripe tomatoes should be stored similar to avocados: in a brown paper bag until ripened. 

Once ripe, tomatoes should be kept at room temperature, away from direct sunlight. It’s also best to keep them in a single layer, rather than stacked, with the stem facing upwards. 

If your tomatoes are starting to get really soft and almost mushy, you should store them in the fridge and use within 3 days. 

While I haven’t noticed a difference, I have heard that allowing refrigerated tomatoes to sit out at room temperature before using helps revive some of the flavor and juices they may have lost from being in the fridge. 

Featured Tomatoes

For this month’s Meet Your Ingredients, we’ll focus on four tomato varieties: 

  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Tomatillos (yes, not technically a tomato but they’re just too good not to include)
  • Heirloom tomatoes 
  • Roma tomatoes 

Healthy tomato recipes

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About Kelli McGrane Headshot

I’m Kelli MS, RD, and my mission is to prove that eating healthier doesn’t have to be complicated or restrictive. Follow along to learn more about food and cooking, with an emphasis on breakfast and sweet treats!

About Kelli McGrane Headshot

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