Oh, and it's not Indian; there goes your rasam

In 1893 it was declared a vegetable Four things you didnt know about the tomato
Flix Food History Sunday, June 26, 2016 - 16:51

Like the potato, tomatoes are very much a part of kitchens in India, and practically whoever uses it in their cuisines would swear by its sweet-sour taste. Here’s some fun facts about the tangy tomato that you probably didn’t know:

It’s a fruit:

Botanically speaking, it’s a fruit. A fruit is something that grows out of the ovaries of a plant which are located at the base of a flower. They contain the seeds of the plant. Now apply the rule to other things in your vegetarian diet and watch your list of fruits in meals go up.

It’s a vegetable:

This is because of its usage. Tomatoes, like beans, are mostly used in savoury dishes – salty / spicy, and in some sweet ones.

The legal battle:

Both the fruit and vegetable arguments matter because they made their way into the US Supreme Court in 1893. It all started in 1886, when a man named John Nix landed at the Port of New York, wanting to import West Indian tomatoes into the US. Customs officials demanded a 10% tax on “foreign vegetables” in accordance with the Tariff Act of 1883. Nix however, argued that tomatoes were a fruit, botanically speaking, and said they should be exempt.

Justice Horace Gray however, used culinary logic to rule that the tomato was a vegetable. While agreeing that botanically speaking tomato was a fruit, Justice Gray said that it should be considered a vegetable because along with other similar fruits (cucumbers, beans, peas), it was served at dinner, and not as dessert, like other fruits. 

It’s not Indian:

Did you have a mild heart attack on reading that? Let’s qualify it a bit. It’s been Indian for about 150 years. So that’s about as Indian as you can get. Which means, that south India’s iconic rasam, and everything else that we use the tomato in, is only about one-and-a-half-centuries old.  

Historical records show that the tomato was originally grown in South America. From there, it made its way to Europe in the 16th century. The British however, did not take to it immediately because it resembled a local poisonous fruit. But according to food historian KT Acharya, it was most likely brought into India in 1850 for the European population here. Acharya notes that in around 1880, a British man observed that it was slowly gaining currency among the “Bengalis and Burmans” who used it to add sour flavour to their food.a

Love the tomato:

Tomato prices have hit the roof. Many of us have to make do with less of it, or spend more to buy it. Spare a thought to tomato farmers who’ve grown the plump red fruit-vegetable, but have faced huge losses because the drought and rains, along with other factors such as bad seeds provided by the government, wrecked their crop. Go find out why your tomato is so expensive and how to get the prices down, so that we can all have enjoy our favourite fruit-vegetable without worrying about how much we paid for it.

Read: Tomato price surge explained: Why the humble vegetable is burning a hole in people's pockets

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