Why the Tomato Was Feared in Europe for More Than 200 Years - Deepstash
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The "poison apple"

The "poison apple"

In the late 1700s, Europeans thought tomatoes were poisonous. Aristocrats got sick and died after eating them. It was later discovered that the pewter plates used by wealthy Europeans were high in lead content. The high acidity of tomatoes would leach lead from the plate, resulting in death from lead poisoning.

In 1597, the tomato was classified as deadly nightshade where the whole plant was toxic. This view prevailed in Britain and the British North American colonies for over 200 years.


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Tomatoes as ornamental plants

Tomatoes were also thought to be eaten in hotter countries, like in Mesoamerica, where the tomato originates from.

The Aztecs ate tomatoes and called it the 'tomatl', but it wasn't grown in Britain until the 1590s, and then only for ornamental purposes. The tomato slowly became an acceptable edible fruit, but rumours of the plant's potential poison lingered despite the hundreds of tomato recipes that started to circulate.


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The green tomato worm

By the 1830s, the love apple was cultivated in New York, but a new fear emerged. A tomato worm, thick-bodied, three or four inches long with a horn on its back. It was believed that brushing against the worm could result in death. One Dr Fuller in New York said it was "poisonous as a rattlesnake." Contact with the spittle would make the victim swell up, and within a few hours, the victim would die.

But entomologist Benjamin Walsh insisted that the tomato worm couldn't hurt a flea.


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Countless tomato varieties consumed

Once the fear of the tomato plant subsided, farmers began exploring different varieties. By 1897, innovator Joseph Campbell found a way to can tomatoes and popularised condensed tomato soup.

Today, a variety of tomatoes are grown, such as heirlooms, romas and cherry tomatoes. Over a half-billion tons of tomatoes are produced commercially every year.


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