Now ubiquitous in the produce section of the grocery store -- as well as in many other aisles -- tomatoes were not always such a popular purchase. For years, people in America shunned them because they believed tomatoes were poisonous since they're members of the same taxonomical family as deadly nightshade. But gradually public opinion swayed and today, tomatoes are a major consumer vegetable crop -- No. 2 behind potatoes [source: Allen].
This achievement is particularly impressive given the fact that tomatoes aren't even technically vegetables, but rather fruits. We have the United States Supreme Court to thank for that little mix-up -- they ruled in 1893 that although tomatoes are a fruit botanically speaking, for taxation purposes they would heretofore be considered a vegetable. Scientifically, of course, tomatoes remain firmly rooted in the fruit camp. It's only when dealing with U.S. tariffs and culinary classifications that things get complicated.
Tomatoes are believed to have originated somewhere in the Andes of South America, although apparently they weren't domesticated until they reached Central America [source: Allen]. It's likely the first efforts of tomato cultivation took place in what is now Mexico. Europeans were quick to bring them across the pond but the speed with which tomatoes were adopted into diets varied among different regions around the continent. For example, Italians were early fans, Brits quite skeptical. Despite the fact that tomatoes were native to the New World, they didn't grow really popular in the United States until the 1800s.
Tomatoes are wonderfully versatile when it comes to preparation. They can be stewed, stuffed, baked, broiled, pureed, pickled, deviled, glazed, grilled and fried. With all those choices, it can be a challenge deciding which style of tomatoes to buy. Fresh whole tomatoes? Canned diced tomatoes? Should they be chopped, sliced, crushed, sun-dried, fire-roasted or sauced? Do you want to buy them as is and prepare them yourself, or have the processing already taken care of? There are many possibilities out there, so get some tips on the next page.