The Great British Tomato.

July 20, 2014 by The Co-operative Food Fragrant British Tomato Vines.

Let’s start with some history. We have been growing tomatoes commercially in Britain since the invention of sheet glass made greenhouses practical back in the 19th century. Before that though there was widespread belief that the plant was actually poisonous, even though we knew the southern Europeans ate them.

What a good job that little issue was sorted out, after all, tomatoes are the base of so many tasty meals from the humble tomato soup to that most elegant looking Italian starter of a tomato and mozzarella salad.

The plants originate from the Andes and were probably brought to Europe by the Spanish conquistadors. Now they are grown as far north as Iceland, and the British crop is not only increasing, it’s very popular too for its superior taste.

Taste is everything, especially if you’re eating raw tomatoes, on their own or in salads. The ideal flavour comes from a high concentration of sugars and acids, along with compounds known as volatiles that create the sensation of sweetness without necessarily containing sugars.

The very best flavours come from small cherry tomatoes that are ripened on the vine. In stores you’ll often see vine tomatoes – those presented still attached to the vine, and vine ripened tomatoes. Both smell great as that most particular of smells from the tomato actually comes from the green stems rather than the fruit, but it’s the vine ripened ones that have the most flavour impact.

One of the factors that make the British tomato so popular is the fact that they are generally vine ripened. The distance from the growers to the distribution centres is minimal and that means that the shorter shelf life doesn’t matter.

British growers produce around 75,000 tonnes a year and that is 20% of our annual consumption. The industry is small but expanding and it employs around 2,500 people, but more impressively it employs over 2 million bees!

In the new July/August Food Magazine that you’ll find in Co-operative stores now you can meet Nigel Bartle, a tomato grower from just north of Middlesbrough and learn about his business’s conscientious growing methods. Not only are the British greenhouses far more efficient than those in southern Europe, the production methods have eliminated pesticide use, relying instead on natural predators to keep control of the beasties that threaten the crops. As we’ve already said, the industry employs millions of bees too!

Check out the article and the lovely tomato photography too. It starts on page 28 of the paper version of the magazine, and page 12 of the online version.

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