The tomato is thought to have originated in South America and to have first been eaten by the ancient Aztecs. It was not introduced to Europe until the 1600s, when Spanish explorers brought tomatoes back from their travels. Italy was the first European country to grow the tomato, followed by Spain. It gained a reputation for being poisonous, but it was determined that the pewter plates that wealthy Europeans were using actually caused lead poisoning — the tomatoes absorbed lead from the plates before being consumed. The tomato did not make its way to the US until the late 1700s, and Thomas Jefferson is thought to have been one of the first tomato growers in the US, in 1781.
More about tomatoes:
- The tomato belongs to the nightshade family, which contains poisonous plants. This association is also thought to have contributed to the tomato being thought of as poisonous.
- More than 1.5 billion tons of tomatoes are produced worldwide every year.
- Joseph Campbell invented and sold the first condensed tomato soup in 1897, when he discovered that tomatoes kept well after being canned.