Tomatoes: Think Beyond the Color of Red!
When we think of the color of tomatoes, we most often think of red ones. A few weeks ago, I shared some health benefits of the red phytonutrient called lycopene which is rich in tomatoes. In case you missed it, you can check it out here! At the end of this post, you will also find a recipe for Caprese Salad.
If you have recently looked through a seed catalog or visited a farmers market, you probably have seen tomatoes in a wide variety of different colors. Not only do these colorful tomatoes make our plates look beautiful, but they also provide their own unique health benefits. This comes from a combination of antioxidants and phytonutrients (phyto is the Greek word for plant) that extends way beyond just lycopene.
In addition to color, I love the distinct flavor that each of these tomatoes provides. Some are sweet, others more acidic, a few are meatier, and then there are those juicy ones! There are almost as many varieties of tomatoes as there are days of the summer.
Here is a short list of some of the colors in tomatoes and the protective plant compounds found that they contain. Keep in mind that just as an artist blends a combination of colors to make a masterpiece, many tomato varieties have a combination of these colors.
Cherokee Purple: Their distinct purple to almost black, pinkish, brownish, to black purple color comes from antioxidant phytonutrient anthocyanin. Anthocyanins benefit heart health especially blood pressure and lower cancer risk.
Brandywine: This pinkish red color comes from the antioxidant phytonutrient anthocyanin with a little lycopene added.
Yellow Pear: The beautiful yellow and orange of tomatoes come from two types of the carotene antioxidant called alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxathin which are protective for our vision, cancer prevention, blood sugar regulation and also have anti-inflammatory properties.
Green Zebra: The unusual green in these jewels comes from lutein and zeaxanthin which are beneficial to eye health.
In addition to the nutritional benefits and the delicious flavor that these colorful tomatoes provide, one of the most important reasons to eat heirloom tomatoes is their biodiversity/genetic diversity. Each variety of tomato has its own unique set of genes that offer health and historical value. By eating them and growing them we keep them in our food supply and ensure we have a larger variety of tomatoes than just those symmetrical and perfect red ones we find in the store. A ‘grocery store tomato’ is chosen more for the ability to be shipped long distances, to keep well on the shelves, and to ripen after picking, instead of for nutritional and flavor qualities.
I love learning about the health benefits of colors in fruits and vegetables; it is easier to remember for me than all of those scientific names. It is also a wonderful way to make a meal look delicious!
There is nothing like a summer tomato picked from your garden, but if you don’t have tomatoes of your own, you can find a variety of delicious and colorful tomatoes at your local farmers’ market! Also, don’t miss Slow Food Asheville’s Tomato Tasting on August 27 at the Wedge Foundation Brewery from 5-7. We will have a variety of tomatoes that you can sample and a few additional tasty treats to taste.
So many tomatoes, so little time, let’s get to tasting!
Recipe and article contributed by Denise Barratt, RDN and Slow Food Asheville board member. Learn more about Denise Barratt at www.vineripenutrition.com.
Summer Tomato Caprese Salad
This simple but delicious salad is as diverse as you want to make it! Get creative and make it your own. This is just a blueprint to get you started.
Makes 4-6 servings
2 pounds of a combination of colorful tomatoes, sliced or chopped in large chunks
8-12 ounces fresh mozzarella (or other cheese if desired, chunked or sliced
Basil or other fresh herbs as desired (try a variety of basil like purple or Thai basil), sliced
Add other vegetables like chopped onion, garlic, ect. as desired.
Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar as desired.
Sprinkle of salt and pepper.
Place tomatoes and cheese on a plate or in a bowl. Sprinkle with other vegetables and basil. Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic dressing.