Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tomatoes

Hello Readers!!!



It feels like it's been days and days since I last wrote. Splitting my time between the two restaurants makes my weeks seem a lot longer than they usually seem. 

Danielle has been posting some absolutely stunning pictures this week. If I had the time I would rush home right now and whip up that gazpacho. I am always looking for light summer recipes and there is nothing better than settling down with a glass of dry white wine and devouring a bowl of cold gazpacho on a toasty evening. It is funny how comfort food changes between seasons. I can't tell you how much I enjoy a piping hot cup of hot chocolate during those frigidly cold MN nights. But in the summer when the grass is green and the humidity is at 60% I want something refreshing and light.

Danielle has been talking a lot about Farmers Markets lately and if any of you have been visiting them lately you have seen that tomato season is in full bloom. I had mentioned in my last post that my mom grows 16 different types of tomatoes in her garden. Tomatoes have always been my parents favorite to grow and over the years have continued to learn new and exciting things about growing them.

Tomatoes are one of my favorite foods. They're sweet, juicy, delicious and contain lots of great vitamins and minerals that are crucially important in our bodies. Did you know that one serving of tomatoes is a great source of Vitamin A, C, K, folate and potassium. They also provide thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, calcium, chromium, and copper.

 All the vitamin A found in the tomatoes makes them super good for your skin, hair and eyes because the beta-carotene helps against sun damage. Vitamin K and calcium help with strengthening bones and fighting against osteoporosis.  The Chromium helps balance your blood sugar by stabilizing the sugar response in the body.

Tomatoes can also help reduce chronic pain. Tomates are high in bioflavanoids and carotenoids which are known as anti-inflammatory agents. When the body is going through bouts of physical stress your body can become inflamed and it can cause uncomfortable chronic pain. The bioflavanoids and carotenoids attack the inflammation to keep it in a normal state and there for making the pain subside.

The carotenoid called lycopene is tomatoes true claim to fame. Lycopene is bright red carotenoid and phytochemical found in tomatoes. Lycopene is a non-essential nutrient for humans, but it is commonly found in the diet. When absorbed from the intestine, lycopene is transported in the blood by various lipoproteins and accumulates primality in the blood and adipose tissue- in men lycopene accumulates easily in the testes. Research shows that phytochemicals contain certain properties that can be cancer preventing. Because the lycopene can be stored in the testes there has been a lot of research showing that increased lycopene in the testes can be a major contributor in helping prevent testicular cancer. Unlike other fruits and vegetables, where nutritional content such as vitamin C is diminished upon cooking, processing of tomatoes increases the concentration of bioavailable lycopene. Lycopene found in tomato paste is four times more bioavailable than fresh tomatoes. Danielle is posting a great tomato sauce recipe tomorrow- just imagine all the lycopene found in that batch of pasta.

It is amazing how much nutrition can be found in such a small tasty package. Now that we all know that tomatoes can be extremely good for our bodies I wanted to give you a little overview about the differences in the tomatoes you see available at your local grocery store.

We all hear these descriptions when purchasing tomatoes- heirloom, hydroponic, imported, organic, etc... Where should we be spending out money? Do some taste better than others? Do some have more nutrients than other? These are all good questions to ask when purchasing products when you grocery shop.

I will start with the basics.

What is an heirloom tomato?

An heirloom is generally considered to be a variety that has been passed down, through several generations of a family because of it's valued characteristics. Since "heirloom varieties have become popular in the past few years there have been liberties taken with the use of this term for commercial purposes. There are four types of heirloom tomatoes- commercial heirlooms, family heirlooms, created heirlooms and mystery heirlooms. The type of heirlooms that tend to produce the best products are those who are truly family heirlooms. Tomatoes seeds that have been passed down generations and generations because they have produced such lovely fruitful plants. Most "heirloom" varieties found in grocery stores are not of the family type. The best way to find true heirlooms are to purchase and plant your own "heirloom" tomatoes. It can sometimes be hard to find heirloom seeds but farmers markets and natural food stores are probably your best bet. If you don't have time to grow your own plants finding farms and farmers markets that specialize in heirloom vegetables are also great places to find these tomatoes. I can definitely taste the difference between a summer heirloom tomato and a winter imported tomato. Tomatoes have to be picked before their peak ripeness to be transported across the country and even sometimes between continents. In doing this not only is the texture and taste different but the color is compromised and as we have learned earlier those really important carotenoids are found in those rich deep colors.

What is a hydroponic tomato?

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions in water, without soil. In Minnesota our winters are so tough that we rely on other countries to provide us with a lot of our fruits and vegetables. That imported produce is compromised chemically to elongate its shelf life. This chemical change in its genetic code can make it almost impossible for our body to digest and keeps us from obtaining the nutrients we so desperately need for our bodies to function. Some of the local farmers here have taken it upon themselves to try and grow some foods hydroponically so that we can have local produce year round. The restaurant I work for works with a local farmer who delivers hydroponic tomatoes weekly. Meritage strives to get the best produce available year round and a lot of the time we won't chose produce that is our of season but these tomatoes are very high quality. Their process is clean of commercial pesticides or growth enhancers and are grown all naturally.  When selecting tomatoes in the winter months gravitate towards the locally grown hydroponic tomatoes. Don't get me wrong there is nothing like a summer heirloom tomato, picked directly from the vine in your back yard, but these tomatoes come close.


I feel like there is so much to learn about the produce that we ingest daily. I hope that you take some of this information to heart the next time you want to find the perfect tomato. I know that I will keep creating new and exciting recipes focused around tomatoes.

Don't forget to check out Danielle's post from Tuesday and check back tomorrow for a great tomato basil sauce.

Laura
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