Roma Tomatoes, serrano pepper and garlic clove on a comal with tongs

The History of Tomatoes in Latin America

Today, I want to talk about tomatoes. Yes, tomatoes! Tomatoes are so common in Latin cuisine. But, did you know tomatoes are native to Latin America? It’s true. They even date back to the Aztecs! In fact, Europeans did not use tomatoes until the colonization of the “new world.” Wow. Can you imagine Italian food without tomato sauce?  Well, at one point, Europe had no tomatoes. None! Therefore, the world owes Latin America a great debt. (For this reason and many others.) If it were not for Latin America, we would not enjoy many things. Things such as chocolate, avocado, and corn. However, today, I want to focus just on tomatoes. So, let’s get to it and talk all about the history of tomatoes in Latin America, and more.

Tomatoes are a Cornerstone of Latin Cuisine

Tomatoes are a staple in Latin American cuisine. For example, I am half Mexican-American and half Salvadorian-American. Growing up, my family enjoyed a SalviMex fusion of food in our home. An important ingredient? Tomatoes. Basically, tomatoes could be found in our home at all times. As a result, tomatoes were a cornerstone of every meal.

Tomatoes are a primary ingredient to many classic Latin dishes. Have you ever had Salvadorian chimol? How about Mexican pico de gallo? Both contain fresh chopped tomatoes as the main ingredient. Additionally, most salsas have some type of tomato as a base. Think about it! Even salsa verde uses tomatillos.  Further, nearly all the soups I make contain tomatoes. So do my salads. And don’t get me started on sauces! Yes. I use tomatoes often. In fact, I even have some growing in my garden.

I could honestly enjoy tomatoes, in some form or other, with every meal. For example, at breakfast, a salsa roja could be tossed with chilaquiles.  At lunch, imagine fresh tomatoes in a light and crisp salad. At dinner, I may enjoy Mexican rice as a side dish. Tomato sauce gives Mexican rice its beautiful color. How do you like to enjoy tomatoes?

Tomatoes, Serrano and garlic on a comal

 

The History of Tomatoes

As I said at the beginning, tomatoes are native to Latin America. In fact, its origins trace all the way back to the Aztecs around 700 A.D. Therefore, it is believed that tomatoes are native to the Americas. Actually, it was not until around the 1500s that Europeans were introduced to this fruit. In other words, the colonizers discovered tomatoes when they colonized the “new world.”

Can you imagine Italian food without tomatoes? The world owes so many things to Latin America. Tomatoes is one of them.

The language of the Aztecs and some other indigenous groups in Latin America is Nahuatl (pronounced nawat). The Nahuatl word for tomato is tomatl. I invite you to think of the indigenous groups of Latin America the next time you enjoy tomatoes.

 

The Health Benefits of Tomatoes

  • They contain more vitamin C than an orange.
  • Tomatoes are high in antioxidants.
  • They contain lycopene, which can lower cholesterol.
  • Tomatoes are a good source of fiber.

 

Cook with Tomatoes

I don’t know about you. But, after all this tomato talk, I sure am hungry! The history of tomatoes is fascinating, sure. But now, I just want to want to eat some! Then, be sure to check out my salsa archive for some recipe inspo with tomatoes as the main ingredient. And, if you like my recipes, be sure to check out my cookbook. Until next time. Buen provecho.

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