Nutrition Corner: Are tomatoes a fruit or a vegetable?

August 21st, 2015 9:53 am

Tomatoes are here. It’s time to enjoy these low-calorie, filling and nutritious vegetables.

It’s always been a standing comment that tomatoes technically are a fruit, not a vegetable. In a botanist point of view, yes they are a fruit. According to National Public Radio, the determination dates back to the 19th century. In those days, import taxes were charged on vegetables, but not on fruits. An importer challenged the port with hopes of having the tax lifted. No such luck. The courts ruled in the U.S., tomatoes will be vegetables because they are typically served at dinner and, like fruits, are not a dessert. I guess we can challenge again as we do eat some vegetables as dessert such as pumpkin and zucchini in pies and cakes. But, I haven’t found a good recipe for a tomato dessert.

Tomatoes are a great source of the phytochemical, lycopene. Phytochemicals are only found in plant foods — fruits, vegetables, beans and grains. Lycopene is proposed to reduce the risk of prostate cancer and heart disease. It’s important to first heat tomatoes to make lycopene easier for the body to absorb.

It doesn’t take a lot of tomatoes to add value to our diet. Only ½ cup chopped tomato counts as a serving of vegetable in the vegetable group. For a 2,000-calorie diet, the daily recommendation is about 2 ½ cups of vegetables per day, or 5 ½ cups of orange red vegetables over a week period of time.

One-half cup of tomatoes has 15 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A and 20 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C and only 15 calories.

Once we harvest or buy tomatoes, it’s important to store them properly for best quality. Tomatoes should be stored in a cool, dry place. If you buy them in a store or market and place them in a plastic bag, you will need to remove them from the bag when you get home. Do not store them in a plastic bag. It is also important to store them in a single layer, as stacking or touching other tomatoes may cause them to become mushy or blemish. If you have large amounts of tomatoes, they may be frozen whole, chopped or sliced. Wash tomatoes and remove the stem, store in a tightly closed plastic bag, then freeze up to eight months.

Some folks like to can tomatoes. Penn State offers a free fact sheet on preserving tomatoes which covers both freezing and canning. Call our office to receive a free copy at 1-888-825-1701.

Here is a great recipe for grilling cherry or grape tomatoes that make for a great presentation on a plate. Remember, slightly cooking tomatoes makes lycopene more absorbable. Small tomatoes such as cherry, current or pear tomatoes are best eaten raw or briefly cooked. They are perfect for skewering and grilling because they do not fall apart, unless overcooked. If you are using wooden skewers, soak them for 30 minutes in cold water before using.

Grilled Tomato Kebabs

36 small tomatoes, such as Cherry, Ping Pong, or Yellow Pear

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon dried oregano

Six wooden or metal skewers

Wash and drain tomatoes. Using a paper towel, dry each or spread on towels and allow to air dry so the oil will stick to the skins.

Place the dry tomatoes in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, and season with oregano and pepper. Toss to coat tomatoes.

Thread 6 tomatoes, spaced at least an inch apart, on each of the 6 skewers.

Brush hot grill grate with oil to prevent sticking. Arrange skewers on grate. Grill 2 to 4 minutes. Turn and grill the other side for 1 to 2 minutes. Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition Corner Mary R. Ehret Corner Mary R. Ehret

Mary Ehret is the Penn State Extension Nutrition Links Supervisor in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Carbon, Sullivan and Bradford counties. Reach her at 570-825-1701 or at