Picking the right tomato

CHOICE discovers some delicious varieties of tomatoes to look out for - and how to pick them.
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03.Go organic / health benefits

Organic tomatoes

A recent study released by the UK Food Standards Agency found no real difference between the nutritional value of organically and conventionally grown fruit and vegetables. Another recent study specifically of tomatoes found no differences in the levels of antioxidants such as lycopene and vitamin C. That said, however, organic tomatoes should be free from pesticides (tomatoes are subject to insect pests and attack from fungal infections so they’re among the products more likely to contain pesticide residues).

And, while there’s no guarantee, organic tomatoes are more likely to taste better than conventionally grown ones — but not just because they’re organic.
Organic tomatoes are more likely to be produced closer to where you buy them, so there’s less flavour lost during distribution. Organic producers are not allowed to use ethylene to artificially ripen their tomatoes. They’re also more likely to grow the older and tastier varieties.

Health benefits of tomatoes

Tomatoes are rich in vitamin C and the standard red varieties give us an excellent dose of the antioxidant lycopene. People whose diet is rich in tomatoes appear to have a lower risk of certain types of cancer, especially of the prostate, lung and stomach. Most studies have focused on prostate cancer, the third most common cause of death in Australian men.

Tomatoes are the most concentrated food source of lycopene, which provides the red colour (other sources are apricots, guavas, watermelon, pawpaw and pink grapefruit). But tomatoes also contain other antioxidants, and studies have shown that eating tomatoes offers better protection against prostate cancer than taking lycopene supplements.

Tomato tips

  • Raw tomatoes may not be the best source of healthy antioxidants. We absorb a much higher proportion of the tomato’s lycopene when it’s cooked, especially with a little fat or oil.
  • Tomatoes originally came from a warm climate, so they can be damaged by temperatures below about 13°C. They lose flavour if stored in the fridge, so it’s better to store them in a fruit bowl, at least until they’re fully ripe. In very warm weather, ripe tomatoes last longer in the fridge, but keep them in the warmest part (usually the crisper).

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