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Say Love, With Tomatoes

Text and images by Sheere Ng @ Makansutra

Say Love, With Tomatoes

Tomatoes are red, violets are blue… let’s junk the rose, what say you?

This is no trick question as tomatoes are as legit as roses as the symbol of love.

Not known to many, especially outside of Europe, is that this fruit is also known as “love apples”. In the 15th century, a knight called Sir Walter Raleigh reportedly brought a tomato seedling to Queen Elizabeth I as a pledge of his love –long before the fruit was hammered into paste for pizzas and pastas. Then, it was also mainly grown as ornamentals after its arrival in Italy.

The origin of tomatoes traces to the Aztecs, Indian people who dominated Mexico in the 1500s. It was said that Aztecs, who practised cannibalism, used the fruit as a side dish to go with the main course of human flesh.

When tomato made its way to Europe, Italian herbalist Pietro Andrae Matthioli classified it alongside the mandrake plant, which is known for its aphrodisiac qualities, one possible reason how it acquired its reputation as a symbol of love.

There is a second theory that attributed the name to a linguistic slip-up. The Italians called tomatoes pomid’oro, which means apples of gold, possibly because the earlier arrivals of the fruit were of the yellow variety. When it landed on French soil, they called it pommes d’amour, or apples of loves.

Do not mistake this as us giving you ideas for Valentine’s Day gift. We do not happen to think that any woman today would like to hear “I love you” and then have a bag of tomatoes conveniently dropped in her arms. Especially so when she’s likely to be the one tasked to whip up a meal with the fruit.

On that note, it took quite a while for the Europeans to accept tomatoes as food because many thought it was poisonous. English influential cultivator believed it was inedible and reflected his opinion in the book, Herbal (1597), even though he knew it was eaten in Spain and Italy. His views prevailed in Britain and the British North American colonies for over two hundred years.