Shipra Agarwal, Delhi
Tomatoes are not only tasty but one of the main constituents of modern diet due to their nutritional content. For modern food and diet-conscious people like me, tomato makes for an ideal choice in daily menu due to their zero fat & cholesterol content. They are rich in vitamins, fibre, minerals and antioxidants. Tomatoes also have an important red pigment called lycopene, which drastically brings down the risk of getting cancer.
Tomatoes are commercially grown across most of the major states in India. In Maharashtra and Gujrat, the crop is grown round the year but in all the other states, tomato is a seasonal crop. But we can get red tomatoes round the year in any store / at any vegetable vendor (sabziwala) across the country. Transportation & cold storage are the two key reasons for this ubiquitous presence and round the year availability, both these lead to another set of challenges. Ripe tomatoes travel far distances from the farm where they are produced to the consumers in the cities. On the way it loses its nutrients, texture and smell. Moreover, in order to transport tomatoes long distances, much of it is picked while still unripe. As per experts, tomatoes harvested green have 31% less vitamin C than those allowed to ripen on the vine. It is not just the vitamin C content that is reduced, the proportion of important antioxidants beta carotene and lycopene are also much lower in unripened tomatoes.
Also all fruits and vegetables steadily lose vitamins while in storage, even at optimal temperatures. So basically the tomatoes we finally get to buy are left with little of the original nutritional content.
In today’s world focus of agriculture is on enhancing the shelf life of any produce at the expense of taste and nutrition. Half the tomatoes in commercial farming don’t reach the consumer because of wastage during transportation. That is why mostly those varieties are picked for growing that can be easily shipped and are able to turn red even when unripe. They are uniformly round, hard and, many would say, flavorless – perfect for shipping and storing on-shelf – but not great for eating!
Here are some of the measures we as consumers can take to derive better nutritional value from tomatoes:
- Fresh is best when it comes to taste and nutrition. So be aware of the source (fresh, cold storage) of tomatoes you are buying.
- Refrigeration destroys the flavour of tomatoes so don’t store them for long and if needed, store them at room temperature. If you want to store produce items for a longer time, consider freezing them.
- Cook minimally as water-soluble nutrients are destroyed with prolonged cooking time. If you do cook vegetables in water, those nutrients will leach into the cooking liquid, so try to use the cooking liquids in soups.