Summer is a great time to remember how flavorful tomatoes can be. For too much of the year, a barely pink food is gassed "ripe," yielding neither the flavor, the texture nor the nutrients of a vine-ripe tomato.
Tomatoes were first grown in Mexico and Peru. Europeans thought tomatoes were poisonous and used them as ornaments when they were first introduced in the 16th century. Today they are the second most popular vegetable in the United States, after potatoes. Though most go into processed foods such as ketchup and spaghetti sauce, it's tough to beat the delicious simplicity of a great fresh tomato.
Modern food scientists have discovered there are more than 400 flavor chemicals that make up the sweet-acid taste of ripe tomatoes. These flavors may be accented with the sour pungency of vinegar to make ketchup, chili sauce, barbecue sauce or salad dressing. Vinegar softens the vegetable cellulose fibers in the fresh tomato and brings out the harmonious combination of flavors in this gazpacho and many sauces.
Perhaps the most famous of vine-ripe tomatoes' nutritional attributes is lycopene, the antioxidant that has been studied since 1994. It has been shown to neutralize ionizing radiation and reduce cancers in populations throughout the world, especially where the Mediterranean diet is consumed.
Take advantage of summer's best tomatoes for a delightful recipe that will restore your faith in the flavor and nutritional value of ripe tomatoes. The hardest part of making gazpacho is peeling the tomatoes. Dip them in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes and the skin will peel right off after coring.
Betty Wedman-St Louis is a licensed nutritionist and environmental health specialist in Pinellas County who has written numerous books on health and nutrition. Visit her website at betty-wedman-stlouis.com.