Tomato is believed to be the second most popular "vegetable" in the world after the potato, but most are unaware of its surprising history, and a wealth of medicinal value is being discovered within the plant today.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Tomato, cherry tomato, beefsteak tomato
  • Scientific nameLycopersicon esculentum (syn. Solanum lycopersicum)
  • Plant typeVine
  • Native regionSouth America
  • Main producer(s)China
  • Main Economic UseCulinary

Easily one of the best-known food products worldwide, the tomato is beloved for its savory taste and its seemingly endless combination of culinary options. While many are aware that the fruit - while it may seem counterintuitive, tomato is botanically a berry - is highly nutritious, there is much more to learn about it that lies beyond common knowledge.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionCardioprotective, Osteoprotective
  • Key constituentsLycopene
  • Medicinal rating(3) Reasonably useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe

Health Benefits of Tomato

Tomato's medicinal value is mostly preventative, and stems from its nutritional profile. Its high concentration of lycopene is responsible for the majority of this medicinal value thanks to its antioxidant action.

Extensive scientific research have been done regarding the effects of tomato's consumption on human health. Many studies suggest that tomatoes can be helpful for:

  • Lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. Tomatoes include several nutrients associated with beneficial cardioprotective effects, including the reduction of cholesterol levels and blood pressure, which in turn lead to a decreased risk of stroke.

  • Preventing osteoporosis. The high levels of antioxidant compounds in tomatoes are been shown beneficial in preventing and treating osteoporosis.

  • Reducing systemic inflammation. The dietary components of tomatoes are thought have an internal and external influence on inflammatory processes, reducing swelling and irritation.

Additionally, because of its anti-inflammatory effects, tomatoes contribute to alleviate gingivitis.

How It Works

Tomato is an immensely healthy fruit, high in vitamins A, B (pyridoxine), C (ascorbic acid), and K, as well as other important nutrients like potassium, phosphorus, manganese, and magnesium. Its primary active ingredient is lycopene, which is found mostly in the skin of the fruit has strong antioxidant properties. The carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin are also present, as are courmaric and chlorogenic acids.


The role of lycopene in helping prevent and treat osteopororis has so far been based on its potent antioxidant properties, which improve the absorption of nutrients that are essential for bone health.

Additionally, lycopene has been inversely associated with circulating levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), which is produced in the liver and it is considered as a general marker of inflammation. The presence of high levels of CPR is strongly associated with the risk of cardiovascular events, such as hearth attacks and stroke. Lycopene have been shown to reduce the production of CRP, thus contributing to alleviate inflammation.

Other herbs that provide cardioprotective benefits are olive and sacha inchi, while spinach and soy also promote healthy bones.

Tomato Side Effects

Tomatoes contain L-glutamate, which is an amino acid that occurs naturally in many vegetables. In tomatoes, glutamate levels increase during fruit ripening. An excessive consumption of glutamate may trigger adverse reactions in sensitive people. Symptoms include headache, a burning sensation on the back of the neck, chest tightness, nausea, diarrhea, and sweating.

Allergic reactions to tomatoes are uncommon; however, some individuals sensitive to nightshade species may experience hives, dermatitis, oral allergy syndrome, rhinitis, and abdominal pain.

Tomato Cautions

Although this is a rare occurence, asthma attacks may get worse after people with this health condition ingest foods containing glumatato, such as tomatoes. There are not known drug interactions for tomato.

How to Consume Tomato

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsFruit
  • Edible usesFlavoring, Coloring, Condiment, Beverage
  • TasteSweet

Tomato is enjoyed primarily as a culinary ingredient, though recent interest in its antioxidants has given rise to supplements for medicinal uses.

Natural Forms

  • Raw. Raw tomatoes have more vitamin C than cooked tomatoes.

  • Cooked. Cooking tomatoes increases their lycopene content.

  • Sun-dried. Tomatoes tend to retain the same nutrient content after having been sun-dried, though as part of this process, they may have added salt.

  • Juice. Tomato juice has a higher antioxidant capacity than fresh tomatoes.

  • Paste. Lycopene is more bioavailable in tomato paste than from fresh tomatoes.

  • Powder. Dried and finely ground, tomatoes have a longer shelf-life and can be used for culinary purposes, as well as for nutrient rich smoothies and juices.

Tomato can also be processed into sauce or oil, and it can be canned for storage.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

  • Liquid extract. The anti-inflammatory, antioxidant properties of tomato are concentrated in this remedial form.

  • Capsules. For medicinal purposes, tomato is typically processed into lycopene capsules and tablets.


Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Farmers' markets, Specialized health stores, Online herb stores, Organic markets

Natural Forms

Fresh tomatoes are usually in season in temperate climates starting in late spring and lasting through midsummer. They are widely available in farmers' markets and grocery stores. Supermarkets that have access to supplies from subtropical areas generally carry the fruit year-round.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

Lycopene supplements are quite commonly found anywhere that herbal supplements are sold, including health food stores, wholesale retailers, and even online. They frequently come in either gel capsule or liquid extract forms, though neither is considered more beneficial than the other.


Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cycleAnnual
  • Harvested partsFruit
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • SoilPeaty
  • Growing habitatTemperate climates, Subtropical regions
  • Planting timeEarly spring

Tolerant to a wide range of climatic differences, tomatoes are ease to be grown at home.

  • Tomatoes grow best at temperatures of 70 – 80°F (21 – 27°C) and will die at temperatures below 32°F (0°C).

  • Seeds should be sown indoors, during early spring, in fertile soil which is rich in calcium.

  • When the seedlings are strong enough and the danger of frost has passed, tomato plants can be transplanted near other plants, like asparagus and parsley, but not near potatoes or fennel.

  • A pH in the range of 6.0 - 6.5 is optimum for tomato growth. Adding organic matter, such as compost, peat moss, rotted leaves, and manure before planting will improve nutrient's content and water holding capacity.

  • Tomatoes need 1 – 1.5 inches (2.4 – 3.8 cm) of water per week.
  • Training the vine around a wooden pole will support fruit propagation, which should occur no later than 80 days after planting.
  • Most varieties will still be slightly green when picked but will ripen after that when exposed to sunlight.

Additional Information

Quick Facts (Additional Information)
  • Other usesCosmetics, Repellent

Plant Biology

Tomato plants can grow up to six feet (2 m) tall and half as wide, producing a vine-like stem with lobed, hairy leaves that wrap around other plants to support the weight of its fleshy fruit. Fruit ranges in color from green to yellow-orange, to various shades of red. It also comes in different sizes, emerging from yellow, five-pointed flowers. The fruit and its oil are the only parts used for human benefit.

  • Classification

    A member of the Solanaceae, or nightshade family, tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) is classified among over 2,700 species of flowering plants, including potato, eggplant, and bell pepper.

  • Varieties and Cultivars of Tomato

    Due to its extreme popularity, tomato can be found in thousands of cultivars today, differing mainly in size, shape, color, and flavor. The most popular ones are 'Beefsteak', known for their large size, and 'Cherry', known as being miniature. 'Paste' tomatoes are elongated and have little gelatinous covering around the seeds inside the fruit, which recommends them for use in canning or making sauces.

    These umbrella categories are further broken down into innumerable specific hybrids to suit every need. For example, 'Blue' tomatoes contain the antioxidant phytonutrient anthocyanin, while 'Doublerich' tomatoes have twice the amount of vitamin C, and '97L97' tomatoes have 40 times more the normal vitamin A levels.

Historical Information

Tomato played a major role in Aztec culture as a source of vital nutrients for a millennium before it was discovered by explorers. Spanish colonizers who brought the fruit back to Europe in the 1500s were so impressed with it that it quickly became subject to international trade, primarily as an ornamental plant, rumored aphrodisiac, and Italian sauce. British settlers later brought the fruit to North America, where popular opinion believed it to be poisonous until the early 1800s. Imperial colonies in the East also embraced it around the same era.

Economic Data

Considered the second most popular "vegetable" in the world after the potato, tomato's importance to the global economy is vast, generating an estimated $159 million USD worldwide in 2011 alone. China leads production, representing approximately 30% of overall yield, followed by India and the United States.

In the U.S., large-scale cultivation of tomatoes occurs in 20 states, though 96% comes from California. U.S. corporations like the Heinz Company - which uses over two million tons of tomatoes in their products each year - and Campbell's Soup dominate the industry, but the plant is also widely sold for home garden use.

Other Uses

A staple of amateur home gardens, pulped tomato is also considered a beneficial homemade skin wash for oily skin, and its seed oil can be incorporated into soaps and facial masks.

Its natural aroma is believed to be a potent insect repellent, and its leaves can make an insecticide powerful enough to be poisonous to humans. It no longer retains its former use as an ornamental plant, but that has not diminished its esteem.


  • USDA Plants Database, Vegetables and Pulses: Tomatoes
  • USDA Nutrient Database, 11529, Tomatoes, Red, Ripe, Raw, Year Round Average
  • FAOSTAT, Tomatoes
  • American Cancer Society, Lycopene
  • American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Lycopene is more bioavailable from tomato paste than from fresh tomatoes, 1997
  • Royal Horticultural Society, Grow Your Own Tomatoes
  • Allergy and Asthma Proceedings, Severe tomato allergy (Lycopersicon esculentum), 2002
  • Amino Acids, Free amino acid production during tomato fruit ripening: a focus on L-glutamate, 2010
  • Endocrinology Rounds, Will Tomatoes Prevent Osteoporosis?
  • International Food Information Council Foundation, Review on Monosodium Glutamate:Examining the Myths
  • Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), Adverse Reactions to Food Additives
  • Clemson University, Cooperative Extension, Tomato
  • Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Double Rich
  • Annual Review of Food Science and Technology, An Update on the Health Effects of Tomato Lycopene, 2010
  • European Food Information Council, The Origins of Tomatoes
  • Oregon State University, OSU researchers add potential health benefits to tomatoes
  • Cornell University, Italian chefs knew it all along: Cooking plump red tomatoes boosts disease-fighting, nutritional power, Cornell researchers say
  • Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry, Tomato - A Natural Medicine and its Health Benefits, 2012
  • The British Journal of Nutrition, Tomato juice consumption reduces systemic inflammation in overweight and obese females, 2013
  • Food and Drug Administration, Questions and Answers on Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, Tomatoes and Cardiovascular Health, 2003
  • University of California, Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources: Tomato Varieties 2013 - Master Gardeners of San Mateo and San Francisco
  • Nutrition Journal, Tomato juice intake increases resting energy expenditure and improves hypertriglyceridemia in middle-aged women: an open-label, single-arm study, 2015