Food focus: Tomatoes

Food Focus: Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a staple ingredient in Mediterranean cooking (they were brought back from the New World by Spanish explorers around 500 years ago), and are also popular in Indian and Southeast Asian cooking.

The unique flavor and texture of tomatoes lends itself to a multitude of dishes including hearty stews, robust pasta dishes, spicy curries and mouthwatering soups (such as Italian Minestrone and Spanish Gazpacho). Many types of salad also rely on the juiciness, flavor and color of tomatoes including Greek Salad, and Salade Niçoise. And of course pizza wouldn’t be quite the same without a layer of luscious tomato sauce.

But tomatoes aren’t only renowned for their taste and versatility — research in recent years has found that tomatoes also act as a potent medicine. And the characteristic deep red color of tomatoes is one of the reasons they’re so healthful.

It turns out that the pigment that gives tomatoes their color — called lycopene — has powerful antioxidant properties, and also protects against cancer. Research has shown that lycopene is particularly effective at reducing prostate cancer risk. In a large-scale study by Harvard researchers involving more than 48,000 men, it was found that those who ate 10 or more servings of lycopene-rich tomato products had one third the risk of developing prostate cancer than those eating two servings or less a week. A review of more than 70 studies published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute also found strong evidence that lycopene is protective against prostate cancer, as well as lung and stomach cancers.

And lycopene doesn’t only offer protection against cancer, a study involving 1,300 European men found that those consuming the most lycopene from foods had about half the risk of heart attack as men who consumed the least.

Along with lycopene, tomatoes are also rich in vitamin C and beta carotene (both powerful antioxidants), and are a good source of health-promoting dietary fiber and potassium. To top it off, tomatoes are also very low in calories. For example, two quarter pound cheeseburgers contain the same amount of calories as 70 tomatoes!

Here are a variety of recipes that feature tomatoes as an ingredient:

Pasta  and grain dishes
Pasta puttanesca
Lentil and tuna Bolognese
White bean, sausage and mushroom pasta with tomato-ricotta sauce
Pasta with tuna, broccoli, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and basil
Turkish bulgur pilaf with chickpeas and tomatoes

Curries and stews
Cashew nut korma with shrimp
Greek tuna and vegetable stew
Sicilian fish stew
Spanish braised chickpeas with tuna and olives

Baked and grilled dishes
Roasted ratatouille
Greek-style lentil and eggplant bake
Grilled halloumi and vegetable skewers

Pizzas and breads
French bread pizza with tomato, mozzarella, basil and balsamic-garlic drizzle
Pesto bruschetta topped with tuna, white bean, cherry tomato and artichoke salad
Greek pita pizzas

Tuscan tomato and white bean soup
Turkish carrot, tomato and lentil soup
Mediterranean cream of tomato soup

Cherry tomato, avocado and arugula salad with balsamic vinaigrette
Greek salad
Salade Niçoise
Mediterranean chopped salad
Tuna and chickpea salad

Roasted tomato and garlic sauce
White bean, artichoke and sun-dried tomato dip