An economic history of vegetables

Tomatoes are a fruit that originated in South America. Botanists believe that approximately one thousand years before the Spanish arrived in the Americas, an unidentified wild ancestor of the tomato made its way north and came to be cultivated in South and Central America.

The tomato is first mentioned in European texts in 1544. Mathiolus described how tomatoes, pomi d’oro (golden apple) were eaten in Italy with oil, salt and pepper, suggesting that the first tomatoes in Europe were yellow and not red. European cultivation became widespread in the ensuing decades in Spain, Italy, and in France.9 Cookbooks mentioned tomatoes as early as 1692 in Naples and 1752 in England.

One of the difficulties in consuming tomatoes was that they did not preserve well. Ripe tomatoes can become putrid within days in hot climates. The canning process helped increase the shelf life of the tomato to several months, but prior to 1890, it was a costly manual process.

The mechanization of canning at the turn of the 20th century significantly lowered the cost of this process, and resulted in a significant increase in tomato consumption.

Today, tomatoes have become a truly global food. …[N]ine of the top ten tomato consuming countries are Old World countries. Greece consumes the most tomatoes per capita, followed by other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries. Italy, known for it use of tomato sauces with pasta and on pizza, ranks sixth on the list.

Nathan Nunn and Nancy Qian give us a brief history of The Columbian Exchange–history’s greatest transfer of diseases, ideas, food crops, populations, and cultures in 1492. It’s a short and perfect update to Alfred Crosby’s famous volume, with numbers.

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