Where Did Tomatoes Originate?

Tomatoes are not easy to grow due to their exotic origin. Knowing tomato origins makes it easier to understand their environmental requirements. Find out where did tomatoes originate.

Where Did Tomatoes Originate?

The origin of the tomato, according to Nikolai Vavilov

Nikolai Vavilov defined the main centers of origin of vegetable crops. Currently, they are accepted by researchers and scientists all over the world. The researcher found that the roots of vegetables such as tomatoes, beans, peppers, and potatoes originate from central and south America. Considering that, it would include countries of South America, like Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, and Peru.

Like most vegetables from the Solanaceae family, the tomato plant comes from South America's warm regions. They were brought to Europe after 1492 by Christopher Columbus. Initially, tomatoes were treated as food for the poor inhabitants of the conquered territories. In Europe, tomatoes were approached with concern and treated only as an exotic attraction with an exciting color.

In Italy, for example, tomatoes were grown mainly as ornamentals early on after their arrival.

The color of the first tomatoes

Scientists' findings regarding the color of the first known wild tomatoes differ. The latest reports say that the first tomatoes had a purple tint. Tint was supposed to protect tomato plants from harmful UV rays.

The pigments that determine the color of the tomato fruit, from red to purple, are anthocyanins. As a result of natural DNA mutations, the gene responsible for the intense purple color lost its properties. The tomato fruit gained the red color we know today.

Research is underway to obtain rich anthocyanins tomato fruits that will provide additional health benefits to their consumers.

The history of tomatoes

It can be said that tomato history started 2000 years ago when edible tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) was an essential part of the diet of the Maya and Aztecs. Native Americans called tomatoes 'xictomati' or large 'plump fruit', hence the word 'tomato'. Word 'tomato' was later transformed into 'tomate'.

After Europeans brought the tomato plants to Europe, they called them 'wolf peach'. Tomatoes were believed to be poisonous, so they were initially grown only for decorative purposes, as ornamental plants. These concerns were valid because all green parts of tomato plants contain toxic alkaloids. After the fruit reaches maturity, these substances are unavailable in the colored berries.

In the beginning, there was a fear of tomato poisoning in Europe. The tomato became an increasingly common part of European dishes only in the 18th century. Mainly in southern Europe countries like Spain or Italy, where there were favorable conditions for cultivating this thermophilic plant. Today tomato sauce is a symbol and key ingredient of French, Spanish and Italian cuisines.

Italians call tomatoes 'pomodoro' (golden apple). The name golden apple came from the first varieties of tomatoes that came to Europe during the XVI century. At this time, tomatoes were not red, like most varieties grown today, but yellowish or orange. On the other hand, in France, tomatoes are called 'pomme d'amour' (love apple).

In the United States, it is believed that one of the first persons who both cultivated and ate tomatoes was Thomas Jefferson. At the beginning of the 19th century, tomatoes were not so popular and were often believed to be poisonous due to their belonging to the nightshade family (Solanaceae family). According to some publications, Thomas Jefferson ate a tomato fruit in front of the Miller-Claytor house in Lynchburg, creating a bit of consternation.

Tomatoes began to be widely eaten during World War I, probably due to increased hunger.

Exotic origin and cultivation

Its exotic origin dictates the high cultivation requirements of tomato plants. Currently, tomatoes are grown as perennials in warm regions of the world.

Cultivation of tomatoes in countries with cooler climates can extend their growing season. In climates with colder temperatures, they are grown as annuals with a short growing season. Greenhouses and tunnels are built to protect plants from low temperatures.

Greenhouse tomato cultivation
Greenhouse tomato cultivation


The tomato is a vegetable of the nightshade family that comes from the warm regions of South America. Tomatoes we know today do not look much like their ancestors. Nowadays, cultivated tomatoes evolved due to natural changes and human activity. As a result of cross-breeding and natural mutations and selection, new, more attractive, tastier, and sweeter varieties of tomatoes were created.

Tomatoes are an essential vegetable in the diet of people all over the world. The commonly cultivated tomato is one of the world’s highest-value vegetable crops. According to data from Faostat, world production of tomatoes in 2020 exceeded 186,800 million kilos. Currently, China is considered as the world's largest tomato producer.