Tomatoes originate from the Andes in South America, where they grow wild in what is now Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador. They were first cultivated by the Aztecs and Incas as early as 700 AD.
The English word ‘tomato’ comes from the Aztec word, tomatl.
The Latin name for the cultivated tomato is Lycopersicon, or ‘wolf peach’, no doubt a reflection of the long-held belief that the tomato was poisonous. This view may have been the result of Renaissance botanists who, relying on Greek and Roman texts, wrongly identified and classified the tomato.
Whether the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable has triggered a surprising amount of debate. This has not been entirely academic and in 1887 made its way to the US Supreme Court in Nix v Hedden. The real issues were trade and commercial interests. If tomatoes were deemed to be vegetables, they could be taxed when imported, under the Tariff Act of 1883, thus providing protection for American tomato growers. The Court’s botanical knowledge was sound. Tomatoes are specialised reproductive structures that contain seeds, in other words, they are fruits. It chose pragmatism over botanical truth, however, and ruled in favour of American farmers.