Amy Katz from Veggies Save the Day joins me to talk about all things tomatoes as part of our new monthly series where we put a spotlight on a different vegetable. Each episode we will share facts, seasonal information, and recipes. Listen to these two veggie lovers nerd out about tomatoes.
You can listen to this podcast episode below or listen on any of these podcast players - Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts. If you would prefer to read the text, you will find a transcript below.
Here is a transcript of the interview
Eric: Hey everybody. Welcome today to the Eat Shop Waste Not podcast. We are starting up a special series, which I'm super excited about. we're calling it our veggie spotlight. We're gonna take the spotlight and we're gonna put it on sorts of different vegetables. from asparagus to tomatoes to Swiss chard.
We're gonna cover all these great, wonderful vegetables. the best part is I'm not doing this alone. I have a special guest with me for these episodes. I have Amy here. And Amy, welcome to our podcast and tell us a little bit about yourself.
Amy: Hey Eric. Thanks so much for having me. Yeah, I am a vegan food blogger and my website is Veggie Save the Day, and I share easy vegan recipes inspired by a Mediterranean diet. And one of my favorite things to do is create recipes around seasonal vegetables, so I'm really excited about our conversation.
🙋 Are Tomatoes Vegetables?
Eric: All right everybody. Um, welcome to our episode today and we are going to put the spotlight onto tomatoes. So I know we are calling this a veggie spotlight series, and I'm going to say obviously I know that tomatoes are technically a fruit. So, um, we are making that exception here.
I think I actually, I can't remember what it was before, but there was some legal thing about some, uh, might have been tomatoes. That, that they legally had to be called vegetables in some state or there was something like that. I have to go back and look up again. But there's sometimes there is some types of, I guess, laws or rules where things that are botanically are fruit are actually a vegetable or they have to call a vegetable.
Amy: Oh, that's so funny.
Eric: But we, we mainly consider tomatoes being a fruit, but, um, Uh, you know, is champion fruit, but we always kind of categorize them more and cook them more like we cook a vegetable. So, um, they, we aren't cleaning them the veggie spotlight. So you'll, you have to forgive me for not calling this berry spotlight.
☀️ When are Tomatoes in Season
Um, but that's how, that's how we roll here. All right. Um, so we're gonna talk about tomatoes now here. So, um, so we know that tomatoes are available year round. So, you know, we see, no matter what time you're in the store, you're gonna find tomatoes unless there's some kind of major issue going on. I think even during the height of the pandemic.
I don't think we ran out of tomatoes. It might have ran outta flour, but I think we still had tomatoes. Um, so yeah, those, you know, available year round, summertime is often associated as being the best time for them. Many, for many of us. That's when the farmer's markets are selling them.
That's when they're in season. Other places. If you live further south in the country, that's gonna come a lot earlier. I know like places like Texas where it gets really hot in the summer, like you're not gonna grow tomatoes in in July, they're just gonna die out. So if you're in a really hot place here, your season is gonna be a bit earlier in the year.
Um, but yeah, it's always good to know to buy those fresh. I think we all know that that's the one thing that we know that compared to grocery store, it's a night and day difference.
When I had my garden, um, I usually had my biggest harvest of tomatoes that would come right at the very end of the year. Uh, the plants had mature enough here. They're producing tomato after tomato here, you know, it's the race, you know, in Michigan. Um, it be the race against the clock of when the first frost is gonna come in and, and wipe out and kill them.
But right before that, it's like, there's tomatoes everywhere. Um, which, which is great. So, so, so to me, sometimes I actually make most of my tomato sauce, um, more in September, you know, at, right at the beginning of fall time than I would like, even in like the summertime, which is kind of good too, cuz boiling off tomatoes make tomato sauce in a hot kitchen in August is, is not the, my most favorite thing to do either.
Amy: Yeah, that doesn't sound very good.
🌱 Most Tomatoes are Greenhouse Grown
Eric: Um, so when you're in the grocery store, um, and you're looking at the tomatoes here, most of the time now, most of them are actually grown in greenhouses. Um, it's becoming less, less and less common to find ones that are actually grown out in fields. Um, so the greenhouse has totally, totally taken over.
Um, and a lot of those greenhouses are in Canada.
Amy: Oh, that's interesting.
Eric: Yeah, if you're in, um, where I, where I grew up, um, in Michigan, we could quick. Um, I grew up in Port Huon, which is our north of Detroit, and there's a bridge over the water there before Lake Huron starts, that goes over into Canada. So if you're driving over that bridge and start hanging out in Ontario, um, not the one in in California by you, but. Ontario, Canada, um, you'll start seeing all the greenhouse after greenhouse after greenhouses all over the place.
Most land is full of greenhouses, so like Canada became like huge in doing that. So now, like our stores are dominated with Canadian tomatoes, Canada and Mexico. It's one of those few things that California isn't number one for like, like it's actually sometimes challenging actually to see California tomatoes in most main grocery stores.
Cause they're mostly greenhouse all year round from Canada. They made a big commitment to that because they, you know, they're in a cold climate. Um, so they have a shorter growing season. So they went like hog wild and they have tons of land there, that people don't live on.
So they have, so they become huge. But that's also, um, bell peppers. Um, mostly all the bell peppers you see in the store are greenhouse grown from Canada. Same with cucumbers. All your, your mainly like your English cucumbers and your mini cucumbers and your really mini cucumbers. Now they have the, like, the really small ones.
My five-year-old just eats those like candy. Um, so all of those things are, are most of Canada.
Amy: Wow, that's so funny. Where I live, you know, in California, most of the tomatoes, like you said, we get, are from Mexico, and I think they even grow them a lot in greenhouses down there too.
Eric: Yep. I mean, some of that's done too. I mean, obviously Mexico doesn't have to worry necessarily about it being too cold per se, but it could be too hot and all that, you know, and also a pest, you know, if you, you're not having as many pests if you're in a controlled space here. So I think that's one, um, one, one big portion of it.
🍅 Less Acidic Tomatoes
Some people are concerned when eating tomatoes is that the acid in them can be really bothersome. Like, it, it give them heartburn. So my top tip for that is look for orange tomatoes or yellow tomatoes. Cause they tend to be lower in acidity.
You're not like, this is a general term. There may be some orange ones that are more acidic, but it tends to be like, if you buy those ones, it tends to have more sweetness to them. Um, little milder flavor, but then you kind of don't have that acidity.
So if that's something that bothers you. That's something to look for. Um, now if you wanna go big and bold on flavor, that's when you go for the most richest, the most rich tasting, strongest flavor ones tend to be the ones that are dark-skinned. So like, one of the most popular ones is the heirloom tomato called Cherokee Purple.
Eric: is purple-ish, kind of more darkish. Um, red, um, it was one that came from the Cherokee tribe, um, that was passed down. And that one's, um, become pretty popular even now in stores. You know, it became more of a thing as sell heirloom tomatoes and, and, and actually a lot of those heirloom tomatoes are also greenhouse grown too.
Um, so that's, that applies for them as well. And so a lot of people are, are loving those ones. Um, So that, so if you want something that's really strong and rich flavor, then that's when you choose like the Cherokee purple, or there's the little brown kamado tomatoes grown by sunset
Amy: Oh yeah.
🍝 Best Tomatoes for Sauce
Eric: You get those kind of darker skin if you wanna go for that rich flavor. That was the ones you choose. Um, So for me, I actually, sadly enough, I, and I've tried this, I do not like raw tomatoes.
Amy: Whoa. No way, Eric.
Eric: I know. I have tried and I've tried just something about them. Once they're cooked it changes.
So I know, you know, there's gotta be some chemistry of course behind that and the process of cooking it down things here, and then I'm fine. But like, when they're raw, like I just can't like, Like, I just, I just don't like them. So most of the time I'm eating tomatoes. Um, I'm cooking them first. I'm making a sauce a lot of the time.
I think whenever you're making a sauce, whether you're using fresh tomatoes or canned tomatoes, I try to go with a paste style tomato. So that would be like your roma tomato, or the famous from Italy, the San Marzano tomatoes. Sometimes in store you'll see them like San Marzano style.
It won't be exactly those ones, but they'll be a similar type of tomato. Um, because those tomatoes tend, they usually grow like they're longer tomatoes that are very meaty. So they're, they're not very juicy. Like, you know, you buy a roma tomato, it's not like it's gonna be as juicy as like your big huge beef steak, tomato.
So like when you, so it's, when you cook those, you have more mass because you're, what you're doing is you're making a sauce, you're boiling off water. So if you buy something that's full of water, you just got to boil that water off and you end up with less tomato to begin with. So I would say like, make a sauce.
Gotta go with like your Romas or San Marzanos. It's okay if you're like, you know, if you're growing a whole bunch of beef steaks style tomatoes in your garden, you could obviously still make sauce of them here. It's just you're not gonna produce as much If, you know, if you have abundance of them, sure, go ahead and use them.
But I usually go with Romas or San Marzano's. Last summer I came up with a recipe using my Instant Pot to make a Roma tomato and cherry tomato soup.
Eric: Find some, some of both types of tomatoes. Um, Cherries for the sweetness and flavor and roma for that kind of meatiness again here.
And that soup came out really well. That was just a really,
Amy: Yeah, that sounds really good.
Eric: I'll look forward to doing that again when they both are at the farmer's markets again.
🥶 Should Tomatoes Go in the Fridge?
Eric: So another interesting tip about tomatoes and this one I learned from Alton Brown. Um, so that putting tomatoes in the refrigerator was always a big no-no.
And that the reason behind that is that the flavor of the tomato is forever changed when they go below a certain temperature. And they said that like once you drop it below 50 degrees, there's this flavor compound called Z-30-ex. I think that's how you say it. And then once it hits that cold, the compound's gone.
It's like dead permanently. Like you don't restore it back, like bring it to room temperature's not gonna help. Like people like to eat cheese at room temperature or bring fruit room temperature to get more flavor with tomatoes. Once you chill 'em, that one flavor is gone, and, and, and there's multiple flavor components.
Um, you know, I'm not a chemist or whatsoever, but I know, but I've seen these things before where, or, you know, all these things have, you know, like asparagus has tons of different types of flavor components or different that cause the flavor. You see, you speak different chemicals and things here, so that's one in one in tomatoes that you obviously you still taste the tomato that was in the fridge, but it doesn't have quite as good of flavor.
So I, I've had people before ask me, okay, well, you know, when do I refrigerate tomatoes? Should I ever refrigerate them? Does it matter cuz of the flavor? Well then we have, the other problem I know from working in the grocery store is that grocery store tomatoes, they end up in the same refrigerated truck that all the other products come in.
So they're being refrigerated anyway. When the tomatoes would arrive, they'd come in the, the truck here, they would be then put the cooler. Everything would go in the cooler. So they'd probably sit in that cooler for an hour or two at least before they would even be moved out of the cooler into the outside hallway where, where they were stored.
Um, cause that's better for tomatoes, so, At that point, even. Even though even if you don't refrigerate them, you pretty much are gonna assume that your tomatoes in the store were already refrigerated. So it's another reason why those grocery store, I mean, why those farmers market homegrown tomatoes taste so much better.
Amy: Oh, that totally makes sense, Eric. I've always wondered about that if the tomatoes that are in the supermarket have already been refrigerated and you answered my question so that, yeah, that makes sense. So that's just another reason why to, you should look for them. Hopefully you have a locals farmer's market and maybe you wanna even try growing them in your backyard.
Eric: Yeah. And that's one thing I think a lot of people, if they're gonna grow something, they're, they're gonna grow a tomato and, and people do it in pots all the time. I mean, something store, I mean, it costs more money of course, to, to buy. If you go to the store and buy it, tomato plant in a pot already. Usually they're kind of expensive.
Um, then just growing it by yourself. And depending on where you live to, um, it may or may not matter. Um, that much. I mean, if you're living in a really colder climate, then that's gonna give you a huge leg up. I mean, in Michigan, people tend to start their tomato seeds, um, indoors for and like February and March and let the plants grow indoors until like, um, near Memorial Day.
Then plant them outside to give 'em that kind of head start, cuz otherwise, The plants won't have enough time to produce if we just put the scene in the ground. Um, but yeah, that's definitely, yeah, one of those things that, that is, it's a night and day difference here. And that's one of the reasons, stores aren't gonna, you know, there's a lot of produce that does better when it's at room temperature.
I mean, you don't, you don't need to put like pumpkins and squashes and, um, potatoes, um, sweet potatoes. Like those are, you know, don't need to be stored in a cool place here. But stores aren't gonna, you know, are not gonna have a separate truck that's gonna bring the tomatoes and potatoes and all things.
They're all gonna be in the same truck together. They're all gonna come together and then they're all gonna get cooler until they're moved out. So that's usually like the, the process of it. Um, but, I don't wanna say that for all grocery stores. Cause if you go to like a smaller grocery store, um, when I worked for a store that was a more mom and pop place, so they directly source a lot of their stuff from farms.
So we had like a cooler that was set to 50 degrees.
Like that was the, so they would store so that, so that, so that store actually we had better tomatoes when we were getting them directly from the farm. So, um, but it's some is something to keep in mind with, with that.
I say people like you can refrigerate them if they're gonna go bad. Obviously it's better to refrigerate them than to have your house filled with fruit flies.
Amy: Yeah, that's for sure.
Eric: Yeah. Uh, and mold and you can't use them. So like, and after you cut them of course, and you cut it and you don't it, then, then yeah. You gotta figure with that.
You know, I mean, it's not gonna be optimal flavor, but you know, it, still use it. I mean, just like a lot of times with like, we make enough food for dinner? Leftovers aren't often as good as they were the next day, unless we're talking about rice and we're like, frying rice, making fried rice, then that's even better, of course,
Amy: Of course.
🍴 Amy's Tomato Recipes
What are some ways that you like to use tomatoes in your cooking and maybe share some recipes from your blog?
Amy: Yeah, that sounds great, Eric. Well, unlike you, I actually do love raw tomatoes. That's one of my favorite summer treats and yeah. Yeah, I know, I know. But yeah, I either, um, I do try to grow some tomatoes, um, especially like small cherry tomatoes in my hydroponic garden. Um, and I also like to, uh, shop at a local farm.
I'm gonna give a shout out to Tanaka Farms in Irvine, California. They have.
Eric: I have been there before.
Amy: That's a great, great family farm. Um, and they have amazing tomatoes every year that I look forward to. And in fact, all of their, their summer produce is really fantastic. Um, they have the best corn around, so if you're ever in the area, should stop by there.
But, um, I absolutely love tomatoes. You know, if I do, um, cook them, I, instead of doing like, it sounds like you're doing more of like a slow cooked tomato sauce. Um, I tend to, um, use more like canned tomatoes for that. But if I'm using fresh tomatoes, I like to do a quick tomato sauce. So I'll just, um, chop up tomatoes.
Either it could be cherry tomatoes. Or like a larger, like Roma tomato or even like a really large, um, heirloom tomato, you know, I'll chop up some of those and saute it for just a few minutes with garlic and olive oil. And it just makes a quick light sauce. Um, but you know, I'll do that a lot with cherry tomatoes if I have a lot of extra.
And then just top it with some fresh basil and it's just really fresh and delicious. Um, so that's another thing that tomatoes are like really good friends with garlic and basil.
But they also pair well with a lot of other, um, vegetables or fruits masquerading as vegetables. Like, um, like cucumbers, um, you know, I love making like kind of a, a Greek, um, style salad with cucumbers and tomatoes and olives and, um, they also are great with green beans, um, which, you know, a lot of times you'll find some really nice green beans in the summer too, or you might grow those in your backyard.
And I like making a Mediterranean salad where I quickly blanch the green beans, and then I combine them with some fresh cherry tomatoes and a, um, a cilantro sauce that's kind of like a pesto sauce. But instead of basil, I use cilantro and it's really, really delicious. Um, and, you know, but all sorts of salads are great with tomatoes.
I like to make a panzanella bread salad, so I'll use, um, I'll use sourdough bread and I'll toast up the cubes in the oven, and then I toss 'em with, um, sliced cherry tomatoes and some olive oil and red wine vinegar and like salt and pepper. And then finish that with some fresh basil. And it's a really good summertime treat.
So, you know, if you do have a chance to pick up some fresh cherry tomatoes, um, I highly, highly recommend trying it in a bread salad.
Eric: Yeah, that sounds, yeah, that sound, that's a great recipe. Yeah. And then pairing, pairing those things together too. I do take just the cherry tomatoes and do a quick little like sauce then. We just like a burst type thing where we just throw 'em in.
Eric: Usually I usually add some cream to it here. If you are vegan, you can go ahead and use your whatever dairy alternative you like to.
Amy: Sure. Yeah. And that's a great texture too, where they just get hot enough to burst. Um, it's, it's really nice because the skins like, are still really tender since it's a cherry tomato and it's just a great flavor and texture.
Eric: Yeah. And then if you get like, you know, try to find some that are all different colors too, because then you
Eric: This beautiful thing here. And I think, like in my recipe actually also use, a combination of green green basil, and some purple basil. And then it, it's just like, it's just like you know, so beautiful.
Amy: Yeah. I love that. Yeah, that's perfect. Love it.
Eric: Well, thanks Amy for coming on today and talking about tomatoes here. Um, you guys got, are super excited about the tomatoes season, if it's just starting your area. Um, we hope to give you some great inspiration if it's already passed for you while, you know, if you're in the really hot place and you're sorry for grocery store tomato at that point, well, you know, you have some inspiration for it next time.
🔎 Find Amy
Eric: Where can people go to find you online?
Amy: So you can find me at veggiessavetheday.com. And I'm also on social media at Veggies Save the Day. And I love discussing, um, all things fresh produce. So feel free to send me a DM or shoot me an email at amykatz at veggiessavetheday.com.
Eric: Thank you for sharing this here, and we look forward to our next veggie spotlight episode with you.
Amy: Thanks for having me, Eric. This has been great.
Here are the links to Amy's recipe using tomatoes.