A vine of many bright red, ripe tomatoes
Ancient Tomatoes Challenge Everything We Knew About The Fruit
By Alli Neal
The ancestor of every tomato you've ever eaten is an itty bitty berry called Solanum pimpinellifolium, known affectionately as "pimps."
The long journey of the tomato from wild weed to your dinner plate starts in the middle Paleolithic era when these wild tomatoes were growing (potentially) unchecked.
Around 80,000 years ago, the wild tomato evolved in Ecuador and Peru. These ancient people didn't do much domesticating, but somehow, the seeds made their way to southern Mexico.
We don't know exactly when the tomato made it from the Americas to Europe, but it was probably sometime after 1519.
It would take more than two centuries for tomatoes to become staples in the European diet, partly because Europeans believed they were poisonous.
This belief came from the fact that a popular medieval poison, bittersweet nightshade, has clusters of toxic red berries resembling wild "pimp" and early lycopersicum tomatoes.
However, Europeans did accidentally poison themselves with tomatoes, as they didn’t know what parts of the fruit were edible.
The leaves and stems of a tomato plant contain solanine. In large quantities, this glycoalkaloid poison can cause symptoms from GI distress to paralysis, hallucinations, and death.
Once they figured out how to properly eat the tomatoes, aristocrats would eat them off their deadly, lead-containing pewter plates, gaining an unwarranted bad rap for the fruit.