Where do tomatoes come from?

October 1, 2019

From its origins as a wild plant in the Americas to the thousands of varieties grown around the world today, tomatoes have evolved into one of the world’s most popular food crops.

Today’s tomatoes began as wild plants in the Andes, growing in parts of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. The small fruits of the plant look very little like today’s cultivated tomatoes. Centuries of planting, growing and saving tomato seeds resulted in the fruit we recognize today, spreading through the Americas, then to Europe and eventually around the globe.

All this work means you can enjoy their incredible diversity today.

Wild tomato plants still grow in the Andes and support a large genetic diversity. These plants often hold highly desirable traits that can be crossed with new cultivars to improve qualities such as disease resistance, drought tolerance, flavour and more. Preserving tomato biodiversity on farms and in the wild is crucial to creating more resilient varieties under increasingly challenging growing conditions.

Did you know farmers all around the world today still select and save seeds from their most desirable plants? Learn about the farmer-led plant breeding work we support with smallholder farmers.

Tomato fun facts

Tomatoes are members of the nightshade family, a plant family with known toxic compounds. Due to their history and association with more deadly member of the nightshade family tomatoes were slow to gain acceptance as a food crop. While tomatoes themselves are fine to eat, the leaves and stems of the plant are considered toxic.

Learn more about diverse crops every month in our newsletter!

Tomato recipes

We turned to two farmers from Quebec for the following tomato recipes. Enjoy!

Indian tomato, onion and coriander salsa

This recipe is courtesy of Our Little Farm, in Lochhaber-Partie-Ouest, Que.

1 cup medium tomatoes (approx. 2 tomatoes)
1/3 cup onion, chopped peeled (approx. 1 small onion)
4 heaped Tbsp chopped coriander
3/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground, roasted cumin seeds

Cut the tomatoes and onion in to 1/4″ dice (5 mm). Put them in a (nonmetallic) bowl, and add other ingredients. Mix.

Notes from the farmer: This recipe comes from Madhur Jaffrey, one of our favourite Indian cookbooks – I have yet to try one dish I don’t absolutely love from her cookbooks! This is a nice fresh salsa that we like to serve with Indian dishes or eat with tortilla chips for a nice twist on traditional Mexican salsa.

Simple cherry tomato salad

This recipe is courtesy of Dan Brisebois, Tourne-sol Co-operative Farm, Les Cedres, Que.

1 pint cherry tomatoes
4 celery branches
1 cucumber
sunflower oil
balsamic or cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Cut cherry tomatoes in half. Cut celery and cucumbers in chunks. Add a bit of oil and vinegar. Mix everything and savour the freshness of summer! Alternatively, add lettuce or arugula leaves, a pinch of chopped fresh herbs and a dash of honey! Enjoy!

Late summer tomato salad

2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 ½ lbs tomatoes, chopped
½ cup fresh basil, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb pasta

While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, then add tomatoes. Cook 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the chopped basil and season to taste. Toss with pasta and serve immediately.