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Tomatoes are a healthful summer veggie

August 11, 2010|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail

Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables and are a staple in many of our diets.

Tomatoes can be eaten raw or cooked and can be prepared in a wide variety of ways. Some of the most common uses include spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, salsa and juice. It's hard to beat just eating a fresh sliced tomato straight from the garden.

Locally tomatoes are coming into season and you will be able to find a wide variety of types and colors of tomatoes including: cherry, plum and slicing tomatoes.

When selecting tomatoes, choose the ones with good color and no wrinkles or cracks. Tomatoes should be pleasant smelling and yield to light pressure of the fingers. Avoid soft, mottled or bruised fruits, as they are likely to be watery, with little flavor and will spoil rapidly.

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Store tomatoes at room temperature until they are fully ripe. This allows them to ripe properly and develop good flavor and aroma. Unripen slightly pink tomatoes can be ripened in a paper bag at room temperature or stored in indirect light. You can extend the life of tomatoes by storing them in the refrigerator.

For the fullest flavor, take tomatoes out of refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving. Tomatoes should be washed just before use.

Tomatoes are a low-calorie healthful choice. One medium red tomato has one gram of fiber and only 26 calories. Tomatoes are high in vitamin C and potassium. They also supply folic acid and vitamin A. Tomatoes are also a good source of lycopene, a plant chemical that acts as an antioxidant and is thought to help protect against heart disease and some types of cancer; especially prostate cancer.

To prepare tomatoes, wash them just before using and then - depending on your planned use - peel, seed and chop them. To peel tomatoes, immerse them in boiling water for 15 to 30 seconds. Place into a colander and rinse under cold water. The skin will slip right off.

To seed tomatoes, cut the tomato in half and squeeze the halves to extract the seeds and the juice. Remove any remaining seeds by hand.

Avoid cooking tomatoes in aluminum pots because the corrosive effects of the tomato's acid makes them take on an unpleasant metal taste that can also be harmful. The acidity of cooked tomatoes can be diminished by adding a small amount of sugar or honey.

Green tomatoes are very acidic and contain solanine, a toxic substance that is neutralized during cooking. They are often sauteed, fried or used to make marinades.

Generally, we think of vegetables right from the vine as being the healthiest choice, but in the case of tomatoes, cooking them actually increases the level of the phytochemical lycopene.

While the lycopene is increased by the heat of cooking, vitamin C content is diminished. You can gain the healthful benefits of both lycopene and vitamin C by eating a variety of tomatoes; some cooked, some raw.

Visit http://www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov and click on recipes for ideas to use fresh, locally grown tomatoes.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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