Tomato, the name of a plant and of the fruit it bears. Although botanically a fruit, the tomato is eaten as a vegetable, either raw or cooked. It is one of the most important vegetable crops grown in the United States and is the most important of those grown for canning. Tomatoes are either canned whole or converted into tomato juice, catsup, soups, sauces, pastes, and relishes. The tomato is mostly water with very small amounts of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and minerals and a fairly high content of vitamins A and C.

TomatoesTomatoes are round, red-orange fruits eaten as vegetables.
The Plant and Its Cultivation

The plant normally grows along the ground rather than upright, attaining a length of three to six feet (90 to 180 cm). The flowers are yellow and bell-shaped; the fruit can be red, pink, orange, white, yellow, or green. Tomatoes can be round, oval, square, or pear-shaped. There are several varieties, including the common, upright, and potato-leaved tomatoes; and the cherry and pear tomatoes, which are named after the fruits they resemble in size and shape. Many kinds of common tomatoes are available to the grower, but only about 20 different kinds are commonly grown. The common tomato is round, usually two to three inches (5 to 7.5 cm) in diameter. Other varieties, however, range in size from 3/4 inch (2 cm) to more than four inches (10 cm) in diameter.

In its native Central and South America the tomato grows as a perennial, but in temperate climates it is grown as an annual. The plants are started from seed in hotbeds, cold frames, or greenhouses and then transplanted to the field. Because tomatoes are easily damaged by frost, they are grown entirely in greenhouses in some areas that have short growing seasons. The plants are also damaged by various worms, insects, fungi, and viruses; most of these, however, can be controlled by pesticides.

Tomatoes are grown in commercial quantities in most states in the United States and are popular in home gardens. They grow in almost every type of soil, but require an ample amount of moisture. Most commercially grown tomato plants are allowed to sprawl on the ground. Some growers, however, prefer to prune the plant and tie it to a stake, thus allowing the plant to grow upright. Tomatoes are picked either by hand or by mechanical harvesters.

Most of the tomatoes grown for distant markets are picked when still green and are ripened artificially in warehouses. The most important tomato-growing states in the United States are California, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and New Jersey. Major tomato-producing nations include the United States, Turkey, Italy, and China.


The tomato is known to have been cultivated by the Aztecs and Incas. (The word tomato is derived from the Aztecs' name for the plant, tomatl.) The plant was introduced into Europe by the Spanish in the mid-1500's and later brought to the United States from Europe. As late as the early 19th century, the tomato was grown in the United States as a garden curiosity only; many people believed it to be poisonous. The French called the tomato love apple, and it was introduced to the United States under that name.

The tomato is Lycopersicon esculentum of the nightshade family, Solanaceae.