Superfood 101: Grape Tomato!

Grape tomatoes are a member of the family Solanaceae, also known as the Potato family, one of the many species of the genus Solanum L. or Nightshade P.  The plant was developed in Taiwan and was cultivated in North America in 1996 in Manatee County, Florida. By the turn of the 21st century the grape tomato was outselling the cherry tomato ten-to-one where they were available. The United States bought a majority of the rights to the original plant (known as Santa) and Purdue University is one of several institutions that are developing new hybrids. Grape tomatoes get their name from their shape. They are also grown in Mexico and grow on the vine clustered much the same as grapes which makes harvesting difficult and is one reason why they were sold as specialty produce. Grape tomatoes are rich in nutrients and are a versatile ingredient in many types of recipes.

Grape tomatoes are about the same size as cherry tomatoes but are oval-shaped, much like a grape. The fruit grows to one-half to three-quarters of an inch wide on vines that grow to approximately seven feet tall. The plant yields half as much fruit as does the cherry tomato plant. The skin of the grape tomato is thicker than that of the cherry tomato and the fruit is much less juicy. The fruit when ripe is firm with a sweet flavor.

There are several types of grape tomato plants like the Elfin, which is shorter than other varieties; the Rosalita is a pink grape tomato that meets the true criteria of the fruit; and the Sprite plant is smaller and produces small, red, oval-shaped grape tomatoes. Varieties include the Santa F1, Chiquita, Jolly Elf, Morning Light (a yellow variety), Red Grape, Sweet Olive, and Tami-G.

Health Benefits of Grape Tomatoes

Grape tomatoes contain a significant amount of fiber, carbohydrates, and protein. The nutrient content includes vitamins C and A and folate, as well as calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium. They are low in calories, containing twenty-seven per cup—making them an excellent snack for those watching their weight.

Grape tomatoes are a significant cancer preventative food. Studies have shown that adding grape tomatoes to the diet reduces the risk of developing colon, rectal, and stomach cancers. They also help the body inhibit the growth of prostate and breast cancers. Grape tomatoes may also reduce the risk of ocular diseases like macular degeneration. They boost the immune system and support muscle and skin health.

Grape tomatoes are a versatile food that can be eaten as a snack or as an ingredient in recipes. They can be sauteed with garlic and olive oil and served as a side dish or can be used in a topping for chicken or fish entrees. They are excellent roasted or grilled with a little seasoning and olive oil.

Growing Grape Tomatoes

Growing grape tomatoes in the garden is much the same as growing any other variety of tomatoes—they require full sunlight and rich garden soil. It is best to start grape tomatoes indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost. It is recommended to use a cold frame, which is an unheated container made of wood and covered with glass or plastic to protect plants from frost. This is because they should be hardened first before planting by leaving them outdoors during the daytime and gradually getting to the point of leaving them out overnight. When ready, plant each in soil that is fertilized with diluted liquid fertilizer spacing twenty-four inches apart in rows that are thirty to thirty-six inches apart. Be very careful not to disturb the roots to minimize transplant shock. Use a high nitrogen fertilizer until the buds develop; then switch to a fertilizer that is higher in phosphorous and potassium to insure fruit production. It is highly recommended to cage, stake, or plant the vines along a fence line or trellis.