With them being a popular salad topping, a primary ingredient in ketchup, and a main component in pizza, a world without tomatoes is hard to imagine. But not even 300 years ago many people feared tomatoes and wouldn’t dare eat them. The tomato’s history begins in South America where it originated in the Andes mountains, probably mainly in Peru. It is believed that cultivation began with the Mayan and Aztec people, and that tomatoes made their way to Europe with the Spanish conquistadors.
Initially, the tomato was adopted as food in Spain and Italy, but botanists in other countries soon recognized its relation to the deadly nightshade plant and were suspicious about its edibility. Indeed, the leaves and roots of tomato plants are poisonous, and this may have caused wariness. Another reason Europeans may have considered the tomato deadly was because wealthier people would often eat off of pewter plates (which were high in lead content) and the acid in the tomato would release toxins off of the tableware. After many years being grown mainly for decorative purposes, people finally accepted the tomatoes as edible in the late 1800s, around the time of the invention of pizza in Naples.
In the US, the tomato came into question for its classification as a fruit or vegetable in 1883, when a tariff was placed on imported vegetables. Although technically a fruit, the Supreme Court ruled the tomato a vegetable in 1893 because of its culinary use primarily in dinners, not desserts.
Today, tomatoes still grow in the wild in Peru but the main producers are China and the US.