We’ve all seen and most probably eaten a tomato at some point of our lives, it is an important part of many popular dishes, and an essential element in basically every salad out there.
The big, round, red fruit with a juicy interior has been available around the world for centuries, and everywhere you find it you might notice that the name for it is usually a variation of “tomate”, its name is Spanish.
The translation for tomato is similar in most of the languages.
For example, “tomate” in Spanish, “Tomaten” in German, “tomate” in French, even in Japanese it is called “tomato”.
But the ironic thing is that in Mexico, one of the countries from which tomatoes are believed to have originated, there is a debate about how this fruit is named.
One one hand there is the known name “tomate”, but on the other hand there is “jitomate”, which might sound almost the same, but the two of them have a noticeable contrast.
So, what is the difference between “tomate” and “jitomate”? Let’s find out!
What is the difference between “tomate” and “jitomate”?
In some states of central Mexico, “tomate” refers to a kind of tomato that is green or yellowish, that has a brittle shell which is not edible. This green tomato is usually used when creating green sauce (“salsa verde”). In those states, “jitomate” refers to the big red tomato that we are used to. So basically for them, “jitomate” is the regular tomato, and “tomate” is a green variation of it.
The origin of “tomate” and “jitomate”
The word “tomato” comes from Spanish “tomate” which in turn comes from the Aztec language Náhuatl “tomatl”, a combination of “tomohuac”, which is fat, and “atl” which means “water”, giving it the meaning of “fat water”, or as some other call it “the swelling fruit”.
Meanwhile, the word “jitomate” comes from Náhuatl “xītomatl”. This word is composed by “xictli”, which means belly button, and the same combination of “tomohuac” and “atl”.
So, “jitomate” would mean belly button of fat water.
The reference to the “belly button” can be noticed easily by looking at the belly button shape on the tomato when taken out of the branch, and the “fat water” part comes from the fact that tomatoes are round and mostly made of water.
The scientific name of the tomato plant is Solanum lycopersicum.
The first word “Solanum” names a diverse genus of flowering plants that contains the eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, and others.
It comes from a Latin term that could be related to the Latin “sol”, meaning “sun”, due to the plant’s suitability to be in sunny places.
“Lycopersicum” comes from the Greek words for “Persian” and “wolf”, the first one is given because they arrived originally from China to Persia.
The second one comes from the tomato being from the botanical family of Nightshade plants, the same family as the deadly nightshade (belladona), which sorcerers and witches supposedly used in potions that turned people into werewolves.
What about “tomatillo”?
While some people dispute whether the fruit should be called “tomate” or “jitomate”, some communities have decided that it is easier to call the green tomato “tomatillo”, and the red one “jitomate”.
The tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa) is also known in English as green tomato, husk tomato. It is really popular in the Mexican states of Tabasco, Chiapas, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Puebla, Michoacán y Jalisco.
This green tomato tends to have a more acid taste than its red counterpart.
According to certain references, in the year 1554 the tomatoes brought from America were described by Piero Andrea Mattioli, an Italian botanist, as “pomo d’oro”, which means golden apple.
This was because of the color tomatoes have before they are fully ripe.
The term “pomo d’oro” would later evolve into “pomodoro”, which is in fact the Italian word for tomato.
Distinctive Characteristics of “tomate” and “jitomate”
Contrary to what many people think, tomato is mainly a fruit, but it is also considered a vegetable. It is, in fact, the second most important vegetable in the world, only behind the potato.
Tomatoes grow in warm weather, with an ideal flowering temperature of 21ºC. They cannot grow at temperatures below 8ºC
The tomato is a great source of vitamin C, especially useful during the summer days. It can be consumed in two main categories: fresh tomato and processed tomato.
Out of the different kinds of processed tomato, the main ones are tomato juice, dry or dehydrated tomato, tomato concentrate, marmalade, tomato sauce, and of course one of the most popular presentations, ketchup.
So tomatoes vary in name, presentation, and the dishes each of them are used for.
But a certain thing when getting a “tomate” or a “jitomate” is that you will always get its fresh, delicious flavor. And that is why, after thousands of years of eating them, we still eat them every once in a while.
Origin and popularization of tomatoes
The tomato plant comes from Central and North America, and the Northeast part of South America. Its use as food was originated in South America about 2600 years ago.
Some theories believe that the domestication of tomato started in Mexico, others say that it was in Peru. It could also have been in both regions.
But the theory that domestication started in Mexico has a stronger argument because the European tomato crops are more similar to those in Mexico than in the Andean region.
Tomato was introduced in Europe in the XVI century, it is believed that the Conqueror Hernan Cortes was the first to take the fruit to European soil.
The tomato plant was originally used as an ornament but was later used for human consumption. Nowadays tomatoes are cultivated in almost every country in the world.
While in Europe tomatoes took a while to be widely consumed, in Mexico the Mayans and other cultures from that region ate it regularly. It was their belief that ingesting the seeds from the tomato would give them premonitory powers.
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