A bunch of red tomatoes on a vine
13 Facts You Didn't Know About Tomatoes

The First Tomatoes Enjoyed By Humans Were Wild

The wild ancestor of today's tomatoes, Solanum lycopersicum, was native to the northwest coastal regions of South America, and the fruits of the ancestral tomato plant were tiny.

Tomato plants with slightly larger fruits are now thought to have evolved naturally in Ecuador around 80,000 years ago, and people from the region began to cultivate them for food.

Over time, tomato plants spread northward into Central America and Mexico, where more people discovered and began to domesticate them.

Tomatoes Are Related To Peppers And Tobacco

Tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers are members of the nightshade family and are collectively known as nightshade vegetables that thrive in hot, sunny climates and nutrient-rich soil.

The nightshade family is large and diverse. Besides peppers and eggplant, tomatoes are also related to potatoes, petunias, and even tobacco.

The First Tomatoes Brought To Europe Were Yellow

The earliest tomatoes and the first to be introduced to diners outside South America were thought to be not red but yellow, and the fruit made a solid impression on Europeans.

In the early 1570s, Italian naturalist and physician Costanzo Felici depicted it as striking reddish yellow in a letter to a friend but said it was "better to look at than to eat."

Europeans Thought Tomatoes Were Poisonous

When some upper-class diners got sick after eating tomatoes due to the acid in them leaching out some of the lead from their cutlery, diners mistook it for tomato poisoning.

15th-century Europeans mistrusted tomatoes due to their close relation to nightshade and mandrakes, plants that were poisonous and believed to be used in witchcraft.

Even today, some say the alkaloids in tomatoes can trigger inflammation. However, some health professionals believe the nutritional benefits of tomatoes outweigh the risks.

Tomatoes Were Also Considered Aphrodisiacs

Some in Europe, especially in France, embraced tomatoes as an aphrodisiac, calling them pommes d'amour, or "apples of love." The reason behind this is unclear, but theories abound.

While some say it's because tomatoes are related to mandrakes, which were also considered to have aphrodisiac properties, some claim it’s because tomatoes resemble the human heart.

And while many still think tomatoes boost sexual performance, Pierce Howard, director of the Center for Applied Cognitive Studies in NC, says that no food can guarantee that.