According to Paolo Gramaglia, all Italians have a strong relationship with tomatoes. Paolo, the owner, and chef of the Michelin-starred President restaurant in Pompeii, loves tomatoes. In fact, Mr. Paolo has such a strong relationship with the fruit that he believes he is intrinsically entwined with them.
The tomatoes have become the symbol of Italian’s gastronomy. Whether a scarlet-slicked pizza or a red-sauced spaghetti al Pomodoro, Italy’s most recognizable dishes, both include tomato. The love for the tomatoes has gone so far that even the emoji for pasta isn’t just pasta but a steaming plate of spaghetti heaped with tomato sauce on top.
The history of the Tomato in Italy
But while in recent times we think of tomatoes as inextricably linked to Italian food, that hasn’t always been the case. Before the 19th century, tomatoes were widely thought to be poisonous. It wasn’t until the start of the 19th century that tomatoes really hit the tables of the Bel Paese. What we consider Italian food is, for the most part, a fairly modern concept. Only recently did most individual regions in Italy adopt different cuisines.
Today most people have the sense that if something is new, it is good. But the history of the tomato reveals that people regarded it with suspicion in the beginning. The tomato has a political history. The Spanish brought the fruit to Europe when they colonized the Americans. The fruit was known as an Aztec plat as its original name was “tomatl.” Later on, the tomato made its way to Italy, but nobody quite knows how. Few people thought the Sephardic Jews from Spain in 1492 could have brought it with them. Others believe that the fruit maybe made its way over with Eleanor of Toledo, who arrived in Florence when she wed the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo l de’ Medici, in 1539.
How Tomatoes became popular in Italy
Despite the lack of information about how the tomato got to Italy by 1548, the tomato found itself in Cosimo botanical gardens in Pisa. During the time, tomatoes were in the garden but still not on tables as there was still a lot of bias against them. The tomato was perceived as a cold fruit, and coldness was considered a bad quality for food due to galenic medicine’s supremacy. Additionally, the people didn’t like tomatoes as they were associated with eggplant, which was also a vegetable with a bad rap. Also, because farmers cultivated tomatoes close to the dirt, many Italians didn’t find them palatable.
May people saw tomatoes as an interesting fruit but potentially dangerous, so nobody dreamt of using them as food. Medics during the time found a different use for them and often used them to help those with skin ailments. A few years later, people started eating tomatoes as there was nothing else available. Soon the fruit became popular with the poor people as they could not only gobble all of it but could reserve and store it.
Slowly the tomato-eating gradually spread over the Spanish-dominant parts of Italy and then beyond Del Soldato. By the 19th century, people were teaming up the tomatoes with pasta. Maccheroni with tomato sauce possibly came in the middle of the 19th century, along with mixing them with beans and other foods.
Today agriculture has become a science. Now the Italians create different varieties of tomatoes. People who visit Italy can now choose from a variety of tomatoes. Some are the best for salads, and some are the best for cooking.