Edible Plants from the Americas

Not poisonous after all – the tomato

TOMATO (Solanum lycopersicum L.)

To soften the chili pepper they use tomatoes, which are fresh […] and make tasty sauces.

José Acosta (1590) - ‘Historia natural y moral de las Indias’

Solanum is the largest genus of the Solanaceae family and is one of the 10 most numerous genera of flowering plants. The Solanaceae family includes between 3000-4000 species, many of which are of economic importance such as potatoes, peppers, aubergines, tobacco and, last but not least, the humble tomato.

The greatest diversity of tomato species is concentrated in South America, especially in the Andes. Wild species of tomato are native to the western part of South America, ranging from Ecuador to Chile, including the Galapagos Islands. However, it is not clear whether the tomato was domesticated in Peru or in Mexico, where it was consumed by the Aztecs as far back as back in 700 BC. Brought to Europe by the first explorers, it was initially cultivated as an ornamental plant and was considered to be toxic. It became accepted only at the end of the 17th century when it began to be consumed in southern Europe. Nowadays thousands of varieties of tomatoes are consumed worldwide with a production of more than 1.5 billion tons per year.