Whether eaten as slices on sandwiches, wedges in salads, pureed into sauce or simply fresh from the garden, the tomato's vibrant flavor makes it a popular food. The tomato is technically a fruit, but most tomatoes are prepared and served as a vegetable.
Healthy eating. Tomatoes aren't just a tasty garden treat. The tomato contains vitamins and minerals and is low in calories. One medium tomato has only 22 calories, but contains 16.9 milligrams of vitamin C and more than 1,000 IU of vitamin A. The IU designates an international unit of measure for fat-soluble vitamins. The tomato is also a significant source of lycopene, an antioxidant. A medium tomato has 3,165 micrograms of lycopene.
Benefits of lycopene. The American Cancer Society reports that lycopene from tomatoes and tomato-based foods may reduce the risks of certain cancers, including prostate cancer. When tomatoes are cooked, their lycopene content may be more easily absorbed and used. One cup of canned tomato sauce (no salt added) has more vitamin C and A than a fresh tomato. It also boasts 34,249 micrograms of lycopene. One cup of sun-dried tomatoes is rich in lycopene, as well, with 24,787 micrograms.
Picking tomatoes. Some of the best tomatoes are the ones picked fresh from your personal garden or found at a local farmer's market. When these options are not available, keep the following in mind. Look for tomatoes that are plump and red or reddish-orange in color. Avoid any that have bruises or indentations. If the stem area appears whitish or fuzzy, it may be close to molding. A ripe tomato will be firm to the touch, with a slight give if you press your thumb into its skin. Its skin should be smooth and free of wrinkles and scars.
Storage. Store your tomatoes on the counter, away from direct sunlight or heat. Once the tomato is ripened, it can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days. Freeze your extra tomatoes. Tomatoes also can be washed, chopped and placed in a freezer-safe container to be used in sauces or recipes such as soup, stew and chili.
Varieties. According to How Stuff Works, there are three types of tomatoes: vining, determinate and cherry tomatoes. Within the three types are several varieties, including the Beefmaster (vining), the Floramerica (determinate) and the Supersweet (cherry tomatoes.) Vining tomatoes vary in size and usually flourish until the first frost. Determinate tomatoes grow to a specific size determined by their variety, and cherry tomatoes are much smaller than the other types.