Tomato, native from South America, often mistaken for a vegetable but botanically a fruit, has a rich history and a big culinary presence.

This guide will help you unlock the secrets of cooking with tomatoes, offering practical advice on selection, storage, and culinary applications, alongside insightful tips to enhance your cooking. Let’s explore their rich history, nutritional benefits, and the many ways they can be incorporated into your everyday meals.

Pssst…, let me tell you a little secret. I love tomatoes and use them in a lot of my recipes. My pantry is full with bottles and jars with preserved tomatoes like: homemade tomato juice, homemade ketchup, homemade pasta sauce or pickled green tomatoes.

Brief overview of the ingredient


The tomato is a fruit from the nightshade family, native to South America. Despite its fruit classification, it’s commonly used as a vegetable in cooking. It has a rich history, with its cultivation spreading across the world following the Spanish colonization of the Americas.

Common forms

They come in different forms, each offering unique flavor profiles and culinary applications.

  • Fresh: Vine-ripened, heirloom, cherry, roma, beefsteak, and countless others, enjoyed raw, roasted, or cooked.
  • Dried: Sun-dried tomatoes concentrate sweetness and umami, perfect for pasta sauces, pizzas, and salads.
  • Canned: Diced, crushed, and purΓ©ed tomatoes offer convenience and affordability, ideal for sauces, soups, and stews.
  • Paste: Concentrated tomato paste adds depth and richness to sauces, stews, and marinades.

Varieties of tomatoes

1. Classic Red:

  • Beefsteak: These giants, weighing up to a pound, offer juicy sweetness and are perfect for slicing or salads.
  • Roma: Firm and meaty, ideal for sauces and stews thanks to their low moisture content.
  • Cherry: Bursting with flavor in bite-sized packages, great for snacking, salads, or skewers.
  • Grape: Smaller than cherry, with intense sweetness, they add pops of flavor to salads and salsas.

2. Beyond Red:

  • Yellow: Milder and slightly sweeter than red, perfect for gazpacho or adding a sunny hue to sauces.
  • Orange: Tangy and citrusy, ideal for salads or salsas where their vibrant color shines.
  • Purple: Anthocyanin pigments give them a stunning hue and hint of smokiness, enjoyed raw or roasted.
  • Black: Earthy and complex, often enjoyed sliced or in salads, where their dark coloring makes a statement.

3. Heirloom Treasures:

  • Brandywine: Ancestral variety boasting complex sweetness and vibrant colors, enjoyed fresh or in salads.
  • Black Krim: Dark, meaty heirloom known for its rich, smoky flavor, often enjoyed raw or sliced.
  • Green Zebra: Striped beauty with a tangy, citrusy profile, perfect for salads or salsas.
  • Sungold: Golden gems brimming with sweetness, best enjoyed fresh or lightly cooked.


Peak season occurs during the warm summer months, when sunshine coaxes out their sweetest and juiciest flavors. However, greenhouse-grown options and preserved forms ensure you can enjoy this versatile ingredient year-round.

All About Tomatoes

Nutritional profile

Tomatoes are rich in antioxidants, including lycopene, which contributes to their red color and health benefits.

  • Vitamins: A, C, and K
  • Minerals: Potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium
  • Fiber: Essential for gut health and digestion
  • Lycopene: A potent antioxidant linked to various health benefits

Health benefits

Research supports the health benefits of tomatoes, including reduced risk of heart disease and cancer, improved skin health, and decreased cholesterol levels. The presence of lycopene, an antioxidant, is particularly noted for its potential in reducing the risk of prostate cancer.

  • Heart health: Lycopene may help reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering bad cholesterol.
  • Cancer prevention: Lycopene might also offer some protection against certain cancers.
  • Eye health: Vitamin A contributes to healthy vision.
  • Skin health: Vitamin C supports collagen production for healthy skin.

Disclaimer: It’s important to note that these are potential benefits, and a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle are crucial for overall well-being.

Selection and storage

Selection: Look for firm, brightly colored tomatoes with smooth skin. They should have a slight yield when pressed and a fragrant aroma.

Storage: Store ripe tomatoes at room temperature away from direct sunlight. To ripen, keep them in a paper bag. Refrigeration is only recommended for fully ripe tomatoes to slow down the process of decay.


If fresh tomatoes are unavailable, consider these substitutes:

  • Canned diced tomatoes: A versatile option for sauces, stews, and soups.
  • Tomato paste: Concentrated flavor booster for sauces, stews, and marinades.
  • Sun-dried tomatoes: Add concentrated sweetness and umami to various dishes.
  • Bell peppers: Offer similar sweetness and texture, though lack the unique tomato flavor.

Remember: Depending on the recipe, substitutes may require adjustments in quantities and cooking times.

Cooking with Tomatoes

Common uses in cooking

Tomatoes are culinary chameleons, starring in countless dishes across cuisines:

  • Salad base: From Caprese salad to Greek salad, their freshness shines.
  • Salsas and dips: Salsa fresca, pico de gallo, and gazpacho showcase their vibrant flavors.
  • Sauces: tomato juice, ketchup, pasta sauce
  • Soups: tomato soup, gazpacho
  • Stews and casseroles: Add depth and richness to hearty dishes.
  • Roasted vegetables: Oven-roasted tomatoes caramelize for a sweet and smoky flavor.

Flavor profile

Tomatoes have a unique balance of sweetness, acidity, and umami, which makes them a foundational ingredient in many dishes. The flavor varies among different varieties, from the intense sweetness of cherry tomatoes to the robust depth of sun-dried tomatoes.

Cooking techniques

Cooking techniques to unlock the tomato’s potential:

  • Roasting: Intensifies sweetness and concentrates flavors.
  • Simmering: Creates rich and flavorful sauces, soups, and stews.
  • Blending: Perfect for smooth sauces, gazpachos, and dips.
  • Grilling: Enhances smokiness and caramelization for a unique flavor.
  • Stuffed: Hollowed and filled with various ingredients for a hearty dish.
  • Pickling: Preserves tomatoes and adds a tangy flavor.

Pairing suggestions

Tomatoes pair well with a wide range of ingredients:

  • Herbs: Basil, oregano, thyme, and parsley complement their fresh and savory notes.
  • Cheeses: Mozzarella, feta, ricotta, and parmesan add creaminess and salty richness.
  • Aromatics: Garlic, onion, and shallots provide depth and complexity.
  • Olives: Add brininess and a Mediterranean flair.
  • Spices: Black pepper, chili flakes, and paprika offer a touch of heat or smokiness.

Troubleshooting tips

  • Balancing the acidity of tomatoes in cooking? A pinch of sugar can help mellow the acidity
  • Worried about watery sauces? Reduce excess liquid by simmering gently.
  • Don’t like peeling? Blanch and dunk in cold water for easy skin removal.
  • Tomatoes sticking to the pan? Use a little oil and cook over medium heat to prevent burning.


These techniques not only extend their shelf life but also concentrate their flavors, creating unique culinary possibilities. Let’s explore some popular methods and the distinct character they impart:

  • 1. Canning: This classic method involves packing tomatoes in jars, sterilizing them through heat, and creating a seal. It’s perfect for retaining the fresh flavor and texture of whole tomatoes, diced tomatoes, or crushed tomatoes. They’re shelf-stable for months, ready to be transformed into sauces, soups, or stews.
  • 2. Drying: Sun-drying concentrates sweetness and umami, creating intensely flavored gems. Imagine sun-dried tomatoes adding depth to pasta sauces, pizzas, or salads. For faster results, oven-drying achieves a similar effect.
  • 3. Freezing: This quick and convenient method captures the fresh flavor and texture of tomatoes. Freeze whole, chopped, or purΓ©ed – they’ll be ready for soups, sauces, or stews whenever you crave them. Remember, freezing softens tomatoes, so they might not be ideal for raw applications.
  • 4. Fermenting: This ancient technique unlocks tangy and complex flavors through the power of good bacteria. Think fermented cherry tomatoes adding a zing to pizzas or gazpacho, or fermented tomato paste adding depth to curries.
  • 5. Pickling: Vinegar preservation creates crunchy, tangy delights. From classic pickled green tomatoes to spicy salsa roja, pickling offers endless possibilities for vibrant appetizers and condiments.
  • 6. Tomato Juice: While fresh tomatoes offer a burst of texture and flavor, sometimes you crave their essence in a refreshing, liquid form. Made from pressed or blended tomatoes, this juice can be enjoyed plain, seasoned, mixed into cocktails or in cooking in different sauces.
  • 7. Ketchup: Made with tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, and spices, ketchup’s flavor profile dances between sweet, savory, and acidic, making it a versatile sauce for countless dishes.

Fun Facts

  • Tomatoes were once considered poisonous in Europe! Thankfully, that misconception has been cleared up.
  • The world’s heaviest tomato weighed over 8 pounds!
  • World’s largest tomato fight, La Tomatina, takes place in Spain
  • Tom Hanks famously grew tomatoes in the White House garden.


Tomatoes are a nutritious and versatile ingredient that plays a central role in cuisines around the globe. With a variety of forms and a rich nutritional profile, they offer both health benefits and a broad spectrum of flavors to explore in cooking.

Additional resources

  • Websites:
  • Cookbooks:
    • “The Tomato Lover’s Cookbook” by Jeanne Ferraro
    • “Plenty: Vegetables” by Yotam Ottolenghi

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Are tomatoes a fruit or a vegetable?

Technically, tomatoes are fruits, but they’re commonly used as vegetables in cooking.

Can you eat green tomatoes?

green tomatoes

Yes, green tomatoes can be eaten cooked, often fried or baked, and are a staple in Southern American cuisine.

How can I make my tomato sauce less acidic?

tomatoes sauce

Adding a pinch of sugar or a small amount of baking soda can help neutralize the acidity.

What’s the best way to store tomatoes?

Store ripe tomatoes at room temperature for up to a week. Avoid refrigeration unless they are fully ripe to prevent them from becoming mushy.

Can I grow tomatoes at home?

home grown tomato

Yes, tomatoes can be grown in pots or gardens, provided they have enough sun and water. They’re a popular choice for home gardening due to their relatively easy care.

What are heirloom tomatoes?

Heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated varieties known for their unique shapes, colors, and flavors.

Are cherry tomatoes just baby tomatoes?

Not quite! They’re a distinct variety with a different genetic makeup.

How long do tomatoes last in the fridge?

Fresh tomatoes are best enjoyed at room temperature, but will last a few days in the fridge if needed.

What’s the best way to freeze tomatoes?

Freeze halved or chopped tomatoes on a baking sheet, then transfer to freezer bags for longer storage.

Can I ripen tomatoes at home?

Yes, place them in a paper bag with a banana to speed up ripening.