• Hal Decker

The Magical Tomato...

Updated: Feb 3

Tomato, fruit or vegetable? To determine the difference between fruit and vegetable (which has troubled minds since there were such terms as vegetable and fruit,) let’s examine what makes a fruit a fruit and what makes a vegetable a vegetable.

Here is the definition of fruit:

The term fruit has different meanings depending on context. In botany, a fruit is the ripened ovary—together with seeds—of a flowering plant. In many species, the fruit incorporates the ripened ovary and surrounding tissues. Fruits are the means by which flowering plants disseminate seeds. In cuisine, when discussing fruit as food, the term usually refers to just those plant fruits that are sweet and fleshy, examples of which include plum, apple and orange. However, a great many common vegetables, as well as nuts and grains, are the fruit of the plant species they come from. No one terminology really fits the enormous variety that is found among plant fruits. Botanical terminology for fruits is inexact and will remain so.

The definition of vegetable:

Vegetable is a culinary term. Its definition has no scientific value and is somewhat arbitrary and subjective. All parts of herbaceous plants eaten as food by humans, whole or in part, are generally considered vegetables. Mushrooms, though belonging to the biological kingdom, fungi, are also commonly considered vegetables…Since ‘vegetable’ is not a botanical term, there is no contradiction in referring to a plant part as a fruit while also being considered a vegetable. Given this general rule of thumb, vegetables can include leaves (lettuce), stems (asparagus), roots (carrots), flowers (broccoli), bulbs (garlic), seeds (peas and beans) and of course the botanical fruits like cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, and capsicums.

To really figure out if a tomato is a fruit or vegetable, you need to know what makes a fruit a fruit, and a vegetable a vegetable. The big question to ask is, DOES IT HAVE SEEDS?

If you are speaking in a botanical, scientific context, then pumpkin, tomato, capsicum, cucumber, tomato and squash are FRUITS because they all have seeds. If you are speaking in culinary terms, they can all be properly called VEGETABLES.

Are we clear now? Or are you just more confused? Don’t feel bad; many others are confused too.

So, the answer to the question is that a tomato is technically the fruit of the tomato plant, but it's used as a vegetable in cooking.

"Knowledge is to know that a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is to know not to put one in a fruit salad.

Tomato are generally bright red or yellow in color, and are eaten either cooked or raw. They are highly nutritious as they contains a multitude of vitamins and minerals that work to support health.

However, it was not until the discovery of the red pigment carotenoid, lycopene, that modern science began to truly acknowledge the healing prowess of tomato.

Lycopene is one of the major bioactive substances found in food that has health benefits. It is known to reduce the risk of heart disease, prostate and breast cancer. It also appears to have a favorable effect in treating many other cancers—lung, stomach, colorectal, oral, esophageal, pancreatic, bladder and cervical.

Research shows that lycopene helps to lower the oxidation of LDL ["bad"] cholesterol by free radicals and reduce the incidence of heart disease, as well as lung cancer and exercise-induced asthma. There is evidence that lycopene in tomatoes may help to prevent cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, or loss of vision, and sunburn too. New research appears to show that lycopene assists the immune system and protects the body from illness.

Lycopene, the superstar

It is the whole tomato that provides superior benefits with regard to health.

The red colour found in tomatoes is due to lycopene; therefore, the redder the tomato, the higher its lycopene content. Thus, yellow and green tomatoes are relatively low in lycopene.

Lycopene is a potent anti-oxidant. It is also found in other fruits such as: watermelon, guava, grapefruit, papaya and apricots. The benefits of lycopene found in tomatoes has been studied extensively in both humans and animals. One study investigated close to 40,000 women and their dietary habits. The results revealed that consumption of 7-10 servings of lycopene-rich tomato products produced a 29 per cent lower incidence of heart disease when compared to women consuming lower amounts.

Research suggests that a part of lycopene’s benefits against heart disease may be due to its anti-oxidant effects on excess cholesterol. High levels of lycopene is also suggested to act as a natural sunscreen, offering us extra protection from UV-light.


Along with lycopene, tomato also provides many other health-promoting nutrients. It is the synergy of the full array of compounds that makes the tomato a powerful medicinal food.

  • Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, a nutrient known for its anti-oxidant action. A high intake of vitamin C and beta-carotene is suggested to prevent atherosclerosis [hardening of the arteries], diabetes and asthma

  • Tomatoes also contain a profusion of other carotenoids, including beta-carotene. This makes them a rich source of vitamin A

  • Tomatoes are rich in fiber. Fiber works in concert with vitamins C and A to aid against diseases. While vitamins C and A deter free radical damage to cholesterol, the fiber in tomato lowers the amount of cholesterol in the body. It also helps the body to remove it more efficiently

  • Tomatoes have a rich supply of nutrients for fight against illness. Potassium, vitamin B6, folate and niacin are all present in tomato and work together to help fight cardiovascular disease

  • Tomatoes also contain nutrients such as vitamin K, chromium and biotin. Vitamin K helps to build bone, while the latter two nutrients aid the body’s ability to process sugar and fat, which may help control diabetes and improve nerve function

  • Riboflavin is another important nutrient in tomatoes that helps metabolize energy and ease migraine headaches.

  • Unlike isolated supplements or drugs which have one or two main actions, tomato-based food products deliver many nutrients with multiple mechanisms of action—in our fight against aging and disease.

Better when cooked

The wonderful thing about tomato is the many different culinary delights it can be used for. Tomato is widely used in salads, sauces, soups, ketch-ups. The best way to obtain the benefits of tomato is through concentrated and cooked forms. Tomato sauce may be the perfect way to obtain the beneficial lycopene and other useful compounds. Tomato sauce is said to prevent prostate affections, including hypertrophy and cancer.

Lycopene is present in the bound form in tomatoes. When tomatoes are cooked, the bonds are opened, and lycopene is released from the bonds, thus, the bioavailability of lycopene increases. Hence, whenever you consume a cooked tomato, you benefit more because more lycopene becomes available to your body.

Lycopene is a fat-soluble compound. Besides cooking, the addition of fat to tomato

products improves the availability of lycopene. For example- adding oil to tomato salads and soups increases the entry of lycopene into the blood as compared to tomato salads and soups without oil. An interesting study found that tomato salsa when consumed with avocado, led to a 4.4 folds increase in lycopene absorption as compared with salsa without avocado. This is possible because fat present in avocado enhances the availability and absorption of lycopene present in tomatoes.

Final verdict:

Cook your tomatoes to get your dose of lycopene. Make sure you combine it with foods that are naturally high in fat, like avocado or add some olive oil to your salads and soups.