Nothing says summer like the tomato. Cherry, heirloom, grape, beefsteak. The varieties are endless and so too appear to be their health benefits.
The most lauded compound in tomatoes is lycopene, a carotenoid touted for cancer-preventing properties. The research is strongest for linking lycopene to a lower risk of lung, stomach and prostate cancers. But studies also suggest it could be beneficial in lowering the risk of cancers of the cervix, breast, oral cavity, pancreas, colorectum and esophagus.
While lycopene gets all the press, researchers are unclear about whether it's really lycopene that’s at work or the interaction of lycopene with other compounds in the tomato that provide the benefits. Thus to get the most out of it, scientists recommend eating tomatoes and tomato products rather than taking lycopene supplements.
When summer’s over, don’t fret. Processed tomatoes (e.g., canned, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce and even ketchup) contain higher levels of lycopene than fresh tomatoes. So you can enjoy the health benefits all year long.
In addition to lycopene, tomatoes are packed with traditional nutrients. They are an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin A and fiber. A cup of fresh tomatoes provides 57.3% of the daily value (DV) for vitamin C, 22.4% of the DV for vitamin A, and 7.9% of the DV for fiber.
How to pick a good one
Choose tomatoes that have a deep, rich color. Not only is this a sign of a delicious tasting tomato but the deep color also indicates that it has a greater supply of lycopene.
Tomatoes should be well shaped and smooth skinned with no wrinkles, cracks, bruises or soft spots. Ripe tomatoes will yield to slight pressure and will have a noticeably sweet fragrance.
How to store them
Store tomatoes at room temperature since they are sensitive to cold and it impedes their ripening process. They will keep for up to a week, depending upon how ripe they are when purchased.
To hasten the ripening process, place them in a paper bag with a banana or apple. The ethylene gas these fruits emit increases the tomato's maturation. If the tomatoes begin to become overripe, but you’re not yet ready to eat them, place them in the refrigerator (if possible, in the butter compartment which is a warmer area), where they will keep for one or two more days.
Removing them from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before using will help them to regain their maximum flavor and juiciness.
There are hundreds of ways to enjoy tomatoes. In summer I like to eat them raw, drizzled with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Or, for a yummy summertime soup, try this cold gazpacho recipe.
Asian Gazpacho (from the In8 recipe book)
6 tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped (or 1 28 oz. can chopped tomatoes)
2 cups vegetable broth
1 tsp. dry sherry
2 Tbls. fresh cilantro, chopped
1 Tbls. light soy sauce
4 scallions, white part only
4 thin slivers of fresh ginger
¼ - ½ tsp. Chinese chili sauce, depending on your taste
· Place the tomatoes over low heat in a sauce pan.
· Add in the vegetable broth, sherry, cilantro, soy sauce, scallions and ginger.
· Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
· Remove from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.
· Puree in a food processor or blender.
· Just before serving stir in the chili sauce, the zest from one lime and the juice from both limes.