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Late summer – the time for local tomatoes

Tomatoes are among the most popular vegetables. Each German, for instance, eats around 20.6 kilograms of tomatoes a year. Late summer is a brilliant time to buy tomatoes, because this is when they taste best.

 

Round and red – that’s how most people expect a tomato to look. In fact, there are dozens of variant forms. Red, yellow, green, multi-coloured, small or large, round or egg-shaped, smooth or folded – depending on which expert you consult, you’ll be told there are thousands, maybe as many as 10,000 different tomato varieties worldwide. The biggest variety of tomatoes in cultivation is to be found in their country of origin, Central America where they’ve been cultivated since around 200 BC. The name tomato also comes from this region. The Maya called the red fruit “xitomatl”. The first tomatoes to reach Europe were probably brought back with Columbus, but it was only in the 19th century that they became more widely available and they appeared regularly on German menus only after 1945.

Bred to keep

Only a tiny share of the enormous variety of tomatoes actually reaches our supermarkets. Often the choice is between medium-sized round tomatoes or small cherry tomatoes, either on the vine or loose. A lot of people like to buy tomatoes that have been harvested with the vine. Actually, although they look so natural, having all the tomatoes on a vine red at the same time is not how tomatoes normally ripen. Normally the fruit near the top of each cluster ripen first with the others following, so that the first tomato would be rotting before the last one was ripe. Getting all of the fruit red simultaneously required plant breeders to create a longlife or semi-longlife tomato, so that the first fruit to ripen are still edible when the last ripens. What you normally find in supermarkets is semi-longlife tomatoes, which will keep between one and three weeks at room temperature. If you need just a few tomatoes, buy them loose rather than in a big pack, because you don’t really know how long it is since they were picked.

Exotic varieties full of flavour

If you’re looking for more varieties, try farmers’ markets and specialist vegetable stores. That’s where you’ll find unusual shapes and colours and these tomatoes often have more intense flavours. Because, unfortunately the longlife tomatoes can loose a lot of their flavour and aroma on the supermarket shelves. Especially if you want to eat the fruit raw, then it often pays to look elsewhere than your local supermarket. If you’re willing to experiment, you’ll be richly rewarded with new flavours, from sweet to sour and from sweet and fruity to savoury. In summer tomatoes are more full of flavour than in winter. In winter they’re harvested semi-ripe so that they’ll travel safely from southern countries where they’re grown. They will turn red, but without the sunshine, they won’t develop their full flavour. So if you’re cooking with them in winter, bottled or canned tomatoes are an excellent alternative. You can be sure the tomatoes have been harvested fully ripe and the important substances they contain will not have been lost or destroyed. So your classic pasta sauce will taste just as good as in summer.

Good for the environment: buy in season
and regional

If you aim to shop in an environmentally sound way, than you’ll want to buy fresh tomatoes in their normal season – late summer. Then you’ll have a higher chance of buying locally grown fruit that haven’t travelled hundreds of kilometres. In addition, growing tomatoes in winter, for example in the Netherlands, requires a lot of energy to heat the greenhouses or polytunnels. Tomatoes grown further south, for example in Spain, don’t need heat, but they have to travel a long way. If you buy local tomatoes during the tomato season, you’ll be responsible for almost 30 times less CO2 as you would be if you bought out-of-season tomatoes in winter.

 

But it’s not only CO2 that could be a problem, Like any vegetable, tomatoes are thirsty plants; on average it takes around 184 litres of water to produce a kilo of tomatoes. If you throw away a normal round tomato (weighing around 70 grams) you’re actually wasting 13 litres of precious water too.

 

Source: Zu gut für die Tonne!