By Kathy Widenhouse, award-winning writer and owner of Tomato Dirt, a leading online source of for growing tomatoes in the home garden.
Cherry tomatoes are a tiny version of our favorite fruit. In fact, the flavor-packed, bite-sized snack is a standard addition to salads, salsas, platters, grilled recipes, and all kinds of summery dishes.
Plus, they’re fun to grow. Cherries are just 1-2 inches in diameter, which allows them to ripen faster than standard tomatoes. And they’re available in a rainbow of colors: red, orange, pink, white, green, and black. Cherry tomatoes are a perfect crop for young gardeners. They’re nearly foolproof and they produce high yields.
But cherry tomatoes haven’t always been around in their current form. Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about these baby-sized tomatoes.
The wild tomato – tiny, pea-sized fruits that grew on clusters – originated in the South American Andes mountains, is chronicled as far back as 700 AD. European settlers brought the fruits back to Europe.
But from that point, there’s confusion as to who is responsible for cultivating the itty-bitty variety, whether it was the gardeners on the Greek island of Santorini (claiming their dry climate and volcanic soil contributed), the Israeli government (recognized for developing the cherry tomato’s longer shelf life), or British grower Bernard Sparkes (who bred the “Gardener’s Delight” cherry tomato).
Hands down, the British department store chain Marks & Spencer gets the credit. During the 1970s, the store’s owners purposefully sought out a commercialized tomato that was sweet and had a long shelf life. Marks & Spencer began offering cherry tomatoes on their shelves, kicking off a craze that has no sign of abating.
There are about 25-30 chopped cherry tomatoes in a one cup serving. There are 25 calories in a cup of chopped tomatoes. That means there’s about 1 calorie in a cherry tomato.
Like their bigger counterparts, cherry tomatoes are packed with vitamins and minerals – notably vitamin C. They’re also an excellent source of lycopene, a compound that helps prevent inflammation, blood clotting, osteoporosis, and cancers. Nutrient levels can vary in cherry tomatoes depending upon the variety and when they’re harvested, but health experts unequivocally endorse tomatoes as a part of a healthy diet.
It’s easy to overeat cherry tomatoes because they are sweet and flavorful. Usually that’s not a problem when a food item is full of water, fiber, and vitamins – and contains no fat. But be careful not to overindulge or these miniatures could give you acid reflux or other digestive side effects.
Cherry tomatoes are shaped like cherries and have a sweeter flavor. Grape tomatoes are shaped like grapes. They are meatier. Cooks claim to prefer cherry tomatoes for stuffing but report a longer shelf life for grape tomatoes because their skins are a bit sturdier. Both types of tomatoes have become increasingly popular over time. Grape tomatoes were first grown in Taiwan and introduced to the North American garden in 1996. Within a few years they were outselling cherry tomatoes.
Tomato growing principles are largely the same between regular tomatoes and their diminutive relatives. However, cherry tomatoes tend to crack more easily than regular tomatoes. They have a smaller amount of skin surface, which cannot expand beyond a certain breaking point. Once cherry tomatoes start ripening, be prepared to pick them each day, especially after rain, to avoid excessive cracking.
Just a few: Black Cherry, Black Pearl, Bloody Butcher, Cherries Jubilee, Fantastico, Green Envy, Italian Ice, Matt’s Wild Cherry, Sugar Snack, Sungold, Sun Sugar, Sweet 100, Sweet Million, Yellow Pear. Check with your local nursery and local gardeners to find out what cherry tomato varieties grow best in your microclimate.
More about Cherry Tomatoes
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