Native to South America, where they were originally grown for their decorative purposes, tomatoes have been around for a while. In New Zealand, fresh tomatoes are ripened on the vine year-round in greenhouses. These are mainly located around Auckland, the central North Island, Nelson and Christchurch, and smaller quantities in other regions. A small volume is grown outdoors in summer.
Most growers use soil-less media, planting into pumice or sawdust-filled plastic bags or buckets, or in rock wool or cocopeat slabs. These are all hydroponic or semi-hydroponic systems. Many heat their greenhouses for frost protection or for total environment control to achieve increased yield, a reduction in disease issues, and to maintain consistent quality. Bumblebees are used for pollination, and the use of biological pest control and beneficial insects are common-place. There are no genetically modified (GM) tomatoes grown in New Zealand.
There is a large range of specialty and pre-packed tomatoes available. Most tomato varieties are of Dutch origin and are selected for flavour, quality, colour and size. Tomatoes on the vine, or on the truss, are popular. Small, medium and large tomatoes are sold on the truss. There are many different vine varieties; as a general rule vine varieties have a very intense flavour. Cherry tomatoes have a sweet intense flavour and are very popular with children. Several different varieties are on the market. Coloured red, yellow, orange or green, the shape varies from round to oval to pear shaped. Plum, low acid and Roma tomatoes are oval or plum shaped, have firmer flesh, fewer seeds and less juice than standard varieties, making them ideal for cooking. They come in different shapes and sizes. Levels of acid vary with variety as no tomato is entirely acid-free.
Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin C and vitamin A. They contain a dietary significant amount of potassium and contain many different phytonutrients; the most well-known being the carotenoid lycopene, responsible for the red colour. Other carotenoids, particularly beta-carotene, are also found together with phenolic acids and flavonoids.
Tomatoes should be stored at room temperature out of direct sunlight, they will ripen in these conditions. Do not refrigerate unless they are over ripe. Refrigerated tomatoes do not have the full flavour of tomatoes stored at room temperature.
Boil, braise, barbecue, microwave, slow roast, or stir fry. There are countless ways to cook with tomatoes.
Tomatoes are very versatile. They can be eaten raw as snacks, in salads, burgers and sandwiches. Add them to soups, braises or stews. Tomatoes preserve well and are easily bottled and frozen, made into homemade sauces, chutneys, and dried or sundried. Tomatoes are complemented by many herbs, especially basil and oregano.