You might be inclined to keep your distance from those gnarly looking tomatoes with the quirky names showing up more often in grocery stores and at farmers’ markets, but as a nutritionist I implore you to give heirloom tomatoes a try.
Heirloom tomatoes are loaded with health benefits that can, among many other things, reduce stress and strengthen your bones. And don’t be afraid of the heirloom’s odd shapes and diverse colours as these are the result of their rich genetic biodiversity. In short, they are supposed to have lines, bumps and wild colour variation, and as long as the skin has not split, you are in for a treat.
Heirloom tomato seeds, like your grandmother’s china, are viewed as precious family treasures that have been passed from generation to generation. For an heirloom tomato to qualify for heirloom status it has to have been around for at least 50 years. Newer genetic variations are classified as hybrids.
Heirlooms are picked at the peak of ripeness, which gives them greater vitamin content. The rainbow of colours indicate their diversity of antioxidants, which help protect our cells from aging. A good heirloom tomato is botanically a fruit and can have the juiciness and sweetness of a cherry or a grape.
All of that is a sharp contrast to most hybrid supermarket tomatoes, many of which are picked green so they can survive thousands of miles in a truck and are then sprayed with CO2 so they blush red. As well, the skin of these tomatoes is bred to be thick and the flesh sturdy so they won’t bruise easily, but all of these so-called ‘improvements’ create a compromise. In the end, they lack both the flavour and nutrients that are created through the natural ripening process.
Five health reasons to add heirloom tomatoes to your diet
1. Heirloom tomatoes are a rich source of vitamin C, which helps nourish the adrenal glands and reduces stress. One medium heirloom provides 40 percent of your daily requirement of this immune-building nutrient.
2. Tomatoes protect cardiovascular health. They are rich in potassium, which is known to lower blood pressure as well as folate, which has been shown to help with a lower incidence of heart attacks.
3. Organically grown tomatoes tend to be higher in lycopene, a kind of carotenoid that plays a role in the prevention of cancer. Studies show that lycopene is protective against bladder, breast, cervical, colorectal, endometrial, lung, pancreatic, prostate, and skin cancers.
4. Heirloom tomatoes are a good source of vitamin K necessary for healthy, strong bones. The Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University suggests that if you consume vitamin K early and consistently, it can help prevent osteoporosis.
5. Heirloom tomatoes add tremendous flavour to your cooking yet are low in calories. With only 27 calories per cup, you can enjoy a sun-ripened tomato as a snack, just like an apple! Garnish your next soup or dip with chopped heirloom tomato for an extra zip.
One word of warning: You will have to limit your tomato consumption if you are a dialysis patient on a potassium-restricted diet. Tomatoes contain an alkaloid called tomatine that may cause inflammation in those who are sensitive.
Where Can You Get Heirloom Tomatoes?
Farmers’ markets are currently bursting with wonderful varieties right now. Organic farmers also sell to natural food stores nationally. Most of the tomatoes for the above photos were purchased from P & H Farms east of Toronto. You can also plant your own seeds next year by shopping online with Seed Savers.org or Uharvest.ca.
Heirloom Tomato Salsa Recipe
Store-bought salsa is so soggy and sad. This recipe takes five minutes and pops with sharp, sweet and spicy flavours.
Tip: Heirloom tomatoes are perfect to eat when they yield to slight pressure, but should not feel mushy. And they should not be stored in the refrigerator.
1 lemon, juiced
1.5 tbsp (22.5 mL) extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh basil, chopped
2 cups (500 mL) heirloom tomatoes, chopped
1 medium green onion
1/8 tsp (0.5 mL) pink rock or grey sea salt
Optional Ingredient:1 tb (15 mL) hot pepper, minced
1. Combine all ingredients into a bowl, stirring to coat.?2. Serve at room temperature.
Makes two cups (500 mL)
Nutritionist Julie Daniluk hosts the Healthy Gourmet, a reality cooking show that looks at the ongoing battle between taste and nutrition. Her soon to be published first book, Meals That Heal Inflammation, advises on allergy-free foods that both taste great and assist the body in the healing process.
For more amazing recipes visit Chatelaine.com’s recipe section.