The tomato is native to South America. Genetic evidence shows that the progenitors of tomatoes were herbaceous green plants with small green fruit with a center of diversity in the highlands of Peru. The word tomato comes from the Aztec tomatl.
Many historians believe that the Spanish explorer Cortez may have been the first to transfer the small yellow tomato to Europe after he captured the Aztec city of Tenochtítlan, now Mexico City, in 1521. Others believe Christopher Columbus, an Italian working for the Spanish monarchy, was the first European to take back the tomato, as early as 1493. The earliest discussion of the tomato in European literature appeared in a herbal written in 1544 by Pietro Andrea Mattioli, an Italian physician and botanist, who named it pomo d’oro, golden apple.
The tomato is known as a powerhouse of nutrition. It contains a multitude of vitamins and minerals that act to support health. However, it was not until the discovery of the carotenoid lycopene that modern science began to truly recognize the healing power of the tomato.
Lycopene has recently become the poster child of bioactive substances found in food that demonstrate health benefits. Among these benefits, the risk of prostate and breast cancer decreases due to lycopene. Lycopene appears to have a favorable effect in treating many other cancers such as: lung, stomach, colorectal, oral, esophageal, pancreatic, bladder and cervical cancer. Also, research has shown lycopene to lower the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and reduce heart disease, as well as increase the resistance to lung cancer and exercise induced asthma. There is even some evidence that lycopene in tomatoes may help to prevent cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and sunburns. More and more research appears to show that lycopene assists the immune system in protecting the body from illness.