Tomato a Go Go - Dried Tomatoes and their Processes

History of Tomatoes

Tomatoes are one of the most popular fruits on the planet. Although found in the vegetable section of your supermarket in botanical terms tomatoes are in fact a fruit grown from a vine.

The Aztecs and Incas first cultivated tomatoes in 700AD; they were then introduced to Europe by the Mexicans in around 1556. It actually took some time for the Spanish to accept the tomato for fear that it was poisonous like other members of the nightshade family. Down the line, however, some tomato advocates claimed the fruit to have aphrodisiac powers and that is why the French called them Pommes d’amour meaning ‘love apples’. Tomatoes are now eaten freely throughout the world, and are believed to have numerous health benefits.

There are around 7500 different varieties of tomato, all grown for different purposes, some more resilient to pests, others more flavourful. While to the common supermarket shopper red tomatoes and the odd green unripe tomato are all that is available, there is also a rainbow of colours grown by some cultivars, ranging from yellow, orange, pink, black, ivory, white, and purple as well as different shapes and sizes; cherry, plum, pear and beefsteak to name a few.

Throughout history tomatoes have been featured heavily in Mediterranean cuisine, especially in Greek and Italian cooking where they are the base to a large percentage of traditional savoury dishes. Aside from being a delicious fresh fruit eaten on its own and very versatile with almost every other vegetable available to man the fruit is also preserved by drying, sometimes by sun, and sold either loosely in bags or in jars of oil.

Health Benefits of Tomatoes

The facts about tomatoes definitely point them out to be a powerhouse of nutrients to be enjoyed as often as possible.  Tomatoes contain masses of vitamin C and are a rich source of vitamins A and B, as well as potassium, iron, phosphorus and fibre.

Of course not forgetting the commonly known huge amount of lycopene that tomatoes contain which has been associated with reduced risk of some cancers; Lycopene is an antioxidant found in the cell walls of the tomato and is what makes them red, it is part of the carotenoid family which are natural compounds that create the colours of fruits and vegetables.
Lycopene has been making headlines of late because of its anti-carcinogenic properties, the research all indicate that lycopene in tomatoes increases when tomatoes are cooked, this is because when a tomato is cooked the cell wall ruptures and releases more lycopene. As a raw foodist I had some trouble swallowing this information therefore I dug deeper and discovered a great article by Debbie Took which puts it all into perspective and makes perfect raw sense.
To sum it up; yes tomatoes do contain more lycopene when cooked however other important nutrients which are equally as valuable are lost during the heating process, like most raw foods the lycopene contained in the raw tomato is probably a sufficient amount thus twice as much lycopene and none or less vitamin C, B1 and B6 is probably not a good trade off.  Additionally the lycopene content can be increased simply by blending tomatoes, therefore no need for heating or nutrient loss.

Facts about Tomatoes

  • Tomatoes will keep better if stored at room temperature
  • If stored stem down, they will last even longer
  • It is easier to slice tomatoes using a bread knife with teeth
  • Tomatoes contain high amounts of C, A and B vitamins
  • Don't store ripe tomatoes in the fridge. Cold temperatures lessen their flavour.
  • Tomatoes are a good source of minerals such as magnesium, phosphorous calcium and potassium. 
  • Tomatoes are miles ahead of most other fruits and vegetables in vitamin C content; a medium tomato contains approximately 23 mg of vitamin C. 
  • A split tomato can heal itself, a foamy type skin will grow where the split was and close up the wound.
  • Tomatoes are also a good source of chromium, folate and fiber.
  • Lycopene found in abundance in tomatoes has made headlines in recent years for its disease fighting abilities.

What really happens to the tomato from vine to table?

Do not be fooled by the pungent red colour of some tomatoes, it can be very misleading. Due to the popular demand for tomatoes all year round across the globe there is actually a breed of tomato which will continue to ripen once picked this enables tomatoes to be shipped around the world without spoiling on the way. Other times tomatoes are picked unripe and sprayed with ethylene gas which ripens them literally overnight. In both cases there is a huge difference in vitamin content and taste, therefore it is always best to buy tomatoes on the vine. I notice a huge difference in the tomatoes I eat in England and those I eat in Greece, in England the tomatoes are tasteless and firm to touch, in Greece tomatoes when in season are soft with a firm skin, bright red in colour from the outside in, and bursting with juice and flavour. I really wanted to share this amazing quality of tomato with the rest of the world but fresh tomatoes like this do not keep well and even though tomatoes are delicious eaten straight from the vine with no additives, the depth of flavour in a ‘sun-dried’ tomato is phenomenol and intense, and the richness in food that can be achieved from adding ‘sun-dried’ tomatoes is limitless.

Sun Dried Tomatoes

Through my own research and years of searching for the perfect ‘sun-dried’ tomato I came across salted, tough, black in colour tomatoes which, lets face it, were a huge disappointment when compared to the fresh tomato. Once in a while, however, I make a breakthrough which makes me want to scream across the roof tops about my new found discovery.

Raw Sun Dried Tomatoes?

When I set out to find sun dried tomatoes I called around many farmers and was constantly turned away; I was told it was impossible to sun-dry a tomato without salt.
I have been told this about olives in the past too, therefore I was undeterred and continued my search. After speaking to many farmers and sun dried tomato specialists I realised that producing an unsalted dried tomato wasn’t exactly impossible. It is the sun drying process which makes it impossible.
I was adamant that any tomato I sell needs to be as natural as possible, in other words with no added salt or other preservatives and dried using guaranteed low temperatures.

I soon discovered that to really sun-dry a tomato you need to add tons of salt to preserve it otherwise it will rot from the inside out, this process also kills vital nutrients especially lycopene which is why sun dried tomatoes are often very dark in colour as opposed to bright red as they should be. Sun drying also requires a lot of work and when one is drying tons of tomatoes this can be a huge task to achieve.

Over time there were other things I discovered that I also didn’t like such as; there are no guarantees that ‘sun-dried tomatoes’ are indeed raw. Tomatoes are in season during the summer months where in most countries around the Mediterranean can be extremely hot, therefore it is virtually impossible to monitor the temperature or air quality whilst drying anything in the sun. I also learnt that dried tomatoes labelled ‘sun-dried’ are not necessarily sun-dried, this is a title given to all dried tomatoes whether dried in the sun or not, the same way some cosmetics are able to label their products natural when if you refer to the contents list you will find lots of other nasty chemicals too.

Also in Europe some producers use dehydrating equipment which run on petrol or some other environmentally harmful energy source. In these cases the producers crank up the temperature to dry the product faster thus using less fuel and saving some money but also killing many of the tomatoes vital nutrients.

At this point my search for an unsalted natural raw dried tomato didn't look good.

Just when I was about to give up I stumbled across a very passionate tomato grower with strong views about environmentally friendly procedures. We spent hours on the phone discussing my needs, his views and his procedures.  Nikos produces dried tomatoes from start to finish, he grows them himself, dries them and packs them. He did everything he could to ensure I was happy with his products by explaining all the procedures thoroughly and sending me some samples.

Like a big kid when I receive something new I can’t wait to rip it open and sample the goodies inside. What can I say? 

Dried Tomatoes

Nikos' tomatoes are not ‘sun-dried’, but they are not heated to high temperatures either, they are dehydrated using environmentally friendly geothermal energy.  The tomatoes are monitored from start to finish to ensure even drying, low temperatures and a top quality dried tomato.  

 

 

 

 

 

Never have I had a tomato like those sent to me by Nikos back in 2009 and nothing has come close since either. These dried tomatoes contain no added salt which is incredible especially as the average dried tomatoes contains 3.5% salt; so far so good.

I was so impressed with these tomatoes a called Nikos back right away and placed my order. They are amazing; bright red in colour, soft enough to eat without soaking with an outstanding strong sweet tomato flavour which is not overpowered by salt. Yippee my search is over.  

As you can imagine these gems didn’t last long in my kitchen I added them to everything, salads, soups, dips and dehydrated goodies. It took a lot of will power to stop me eating them straight from the bag.
Rest assured Nikos’ dried tomatoes are a keeper and once you try them I am sure you will agree.

The best Dried tomatoes now available in the UK
I am so happy to be able to bring these Dried tomatoes to the UK. They are an absolute delight to the palate, unlike most other ‘sun-dried’ tomatoes they are soft and plump with a rich full flavour which creates a sensational burst of flavour with every mouthful.

We are now selling dried tomatoes of exceptional quality and dried cherry tomatoes which are something I have never come across before, once you have tried them you wont be able to stop yourself from reaching for the bag.

The dried tomatoes come from Xanthi which is in the North East of mainland Greece.
The tomatoes are picked from the fertile plains of the Nestos River Delta using stringent quality controls. 

Nikos and his farm are members of Eurepgap which is a private sector body that sets voluntary standards for the certification of agricultural products around the globe.

EurepGAP is a pre-farm-gate-standard that means the certificate covers the process of the certified product from before the seed is planted until it leaves the farm, therefore the quality is guaranteed to be a cut above the rest.

The tomatoes are dehydrated using geothermal energy which is environmentally friendly and uses low temperatures minimizing the detrimental environmental impacts of farming operations and ensuring a good quality product, plus clean air is circulated to ensure even drying, low temperatures and no contamination from insects or other external factors which is often the case when sun drying.

The method used to dehydrate the tomatoes ensures that the basic characteristics of tomatoes – namely the pungent red colour, strong aroma, authentic taste and nutrients are all preserved.

The mild drying conditions do not destroy or alter the lycopene, which is responsible for the red colour and is considered one of the most significant antioxidants in tomatoes.

 

 

 

 

For Dried Tomatoes click here

 

 

 

 

 


    

 

 

 

For Dried Cherry Tomatoes click here

 

 

 

  

 




1 Comment

Lindsey Miyahira
Lindsey Miyahira

May 29, 2015

Very informative article.Really looking forward to read more. Keep writing.

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