Compounds In Tomatoes Show Health Benefits


Tomatine is abundant in green tomatoes but can decrease up to 99% as tomatoes ripen. Photo: Modern Farmer

I stumbled upon this as I was reading about tomatine. The title sums it up:

Anticarcinogenic, Cardioprotective, and Other Health Benefits of Tomato Compounds Lycopene, α-Tomatine, and Tomatidine in Pure Form and in Fresh and Processed Tomatoes, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, October 2013

Tomatoes produce the bioactive compounds lycopene and α-tomatine that are reported to have potential health-promoting effects in animals and humans, but our understanding of the roles of these compounds in the diet is incomplete. Our current knowledge gained from the chemistry and analysis of these compounds in fresh and processed tomatoes and from studies on their bioavailability, bioactivity, and mechanisms of action against cancer cells and other beneficial bioactivities including antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, cardiovascular, and immunostimulating effects in cells, animals, and humans is discussed and interpreted here. Areas for future research are also suggested. The collated information and suggested research might contribute to a better understanding of the agronomical, biochemical, chemical, physiological, molecular, and cellular bases of the health-promoting effects and facilitate and guide further studies needed to optimize the use of lycopene and α-tomatine in pure form and in fresh tomatoes and processed tomato products to help prevent or treat human disease.

I’m not posting this to promote the tomato, or any compound in it. I don’t believe in magic foods. But I’m impressed with how little we know about what’s in our food, the good and the bad. Here’s Harold McGee:

But the ongoing stories of tomato leaves and basil* show how little we really know about what we eat. Plant foods contain many thousands of different chemicals, and each one can have a number of different effects on the body, some benign, others not.

* McGee says that two chemicals in basil that contribute to its aroma, estragole and methyleugenol, have been found to cause DNA damage and cancer in animals, and that a European food safety agency has proposed regulating their use.

3 thoughts on “Compounds In Tomatoes Show Health Benefits

    1. Bix Post author

      Harold McGee, who’s written for decades about the science of food, says in this article that the tomato leaves can be minced and added to sauces:

      “I started using the tomato leaves to punch up the flavor of my quick tomato sauces at Chez Panisse around 1987,” Mr. Bertolli recently explained in an e-mail message. “I found them very effective in offering up that just-picked, viney, tomato taste.”

      McGee has also fried them: “I gently fried whole leaves for a few seconds on each side, and they came out crisp and beautifully translucent, delicious sprinkled with a few grains of salt.”

      That’s if you’re after the tomatine. The leaves are full of it. As an alkaloid, it’s a bitter taste, but because of its health properties … “There’s now a Japanese patent pending for a process that dries tomato plants and grinds them into an antioxidant-rich food powder.’

      It would take “at least a pound” of leaves to do harm.

      I think I would mince the fresh green tomato and add it to my soups, if I could find some!

      Melinda is our resident preserver. She may have pickled some. I’ll punt to her on that.


  1. Melinda

    I’ve never tried pickling plain green tomatoes, though I know one can do it. I have made (canned) a Green Tomato/Lime/Ginger chutney though. Yum.
    I have never put any fresh leaves of anything in canned tomato sauce though (e.g., like basil leaves), as there’s considerable discussion about whether adding fresh herbs might reduce the acidity of the sauce sufficiently to compromise the keeping qualities. Some people do, though.
    VERY interesting about Chez Panisse!
    Will read the article about using tomato leaves in fresh sauce. Sounds interesting.



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