Can you name the top four vegetables? Do you think tomatoes are on the list?
Potatoes, lettuce and onions are at the top for the most popular fresh-market vegetables, but the tomato comes in just behind these in fourth place.
Chances are, if you are a gardener, you have planted a tomato plant or two. Perhaps you planted two dozen plants. Now we wait for the delicious addition of fresh tomatoes to our menus.
Tomatoes are grown for the fresh or processed market. Three-fourths of the tomatoes Americans consume are in processed form.
Tomato sauce, which is used on pizza and in pasta sauces, and salsa are the most common uses for tomatoes. Consumption of processed tomatoes has increased steadily since the 1980s due to the rising popularity of pizza, pasta and salsa.
You also can use tomatoes in soups, salads, sandwiches, quiche and relishes, or roasted or stewed. You can eat tomatoes fresh or dry, can or freeze them for later consumption.
A wide range of tomato varieties are grown throughout the world. Tomatoes may be green, red, pink, yellow, orange, burgundy, purple, streaked and striped or black, and will vary in size and flavor.
Tomato varieties that have grown successfully in North Dakota include Celebrity, Big Beef, Big Boy, Health Kick, Sugary, Roma VF, Juliet, Jolly and Early Girl.
Celebrity tomatoes have shown disease resistance and high-quality productivity in a wide range of growing conditions across North America. This variety is a great option for fresh slices or canning.
Early Girl will produce fruit in as little as 52 days, staying true to its name. Due to the short growing season in the Midwest, this is a great choice for a slicing tomato. Roma VF is the most popular canning tomato in our state.
Select tomatoes that are firm, smooth and plump with good color. Green tomatoes will ripen but will not have the same flavor as vine-ripened tomatoes.
Handle tomatoes carefully to reduce bruising. Store them at a cool room temperature away from direct sunlight until ripe, then move them to the refrigerator.
Nutritionally, tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamins C and K. They also are a very good source of vitamin A and dietary fiber, and contain less than 20 calories per half cup. Tomatoes also are known for having a high amount of lycopene, a pigment that gives many fruits and vegetables their red color and may offer health benefits.
To learn more about tomatoes and preservation, see the North Dakota State University Extension Service publication “From the Garden to the Table: Salsa!” at
Visit NDSU Extension’s Field to Fork website at www.ag.ndsu.edu/fieldtofork for more information about a variety of specialty crops, including tomatoes..
Here’s an easy recipe to make with your own garden-fresh produce or items you purchased at a farmers market or grocery store.
Fresh Tomato Salsa
3 large tomatoes, seeded, chopped
1 large onion (white or red)
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded, finely chopped (optional)
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
2 to 3 Tbsp. lime juice (fresh or bottled)
1/2 tsp. salt
Rinse, then chop tomatoes and transfer to a bowl. Wearing plastic or rubber gloves, seed and finely chop peppers. Finely chop onion and cilantro. Stir pepper, onion, cilantro and garlic into tomatoes; add lime juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate.
Makes 14 servings. Each serving has 15 calories, 0 grams (g) fat, 0 g protein, 3 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 85 milligrams sodium.
Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a food and nutrition and professor for the NDSU Extension Service.