Were tomatoes ever thought to be poisonous?

Indeed, there was a time when tomatoes were thought to be poisonous. During Colonial Times, Americans had a deep-seated fear of tomatoes and considered them unfit for consumption. Folklore spread that tomatoes were so toxic that they would turn your blood into acid if you dared to eat one. As a result, tomatoes were strictly grown for decorative purposes rather than as a food source.

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Were tomatoes ever thought to be poisonous?

The misconception that tomatoes were poisonous indeed existed during certain historical periods. In Colonial Times, Americans were wary of tomatoes and believed they could be harmful if consumed. These beliefs were fueled by folklore that claimed the fruit had poisonous properties capable of turning one's blood into acid. Consequently, tomatoes were primarily grown for ornamental purposes rather than for consumption.

Similarly, in the late 1700s, a significant portion of Europeans harbored fears surrounding tomatoes. The fruit even earned the nickname "poison apple" due to the misconception that aristocrats fell ill and died after eating them. However, the truth behind this association was not related to the tomato itself but rather the tableware used by the wealthy Europeans. Pewter plates, which were commonly utilized, contained high levels of lead. As tomatoes possess high acidity, they would react with the lead, resulting in lead poisoning and subsequent deaths. The connection between the plate and the poison was not established at the time, leading to the unjust blame placed on tomatoes.

Despite these historical misunderstandings, it is fascinating to witness the transformation of the tomato's reputation. Today, it is a beloved and widely consumed food source, appreciated for its versatility and nutritional benefits. Whether pronounced as "tuh-MAY-toh" or "tuh-MAH-to," the tomato has transcended its poisonous reputation to become a staple ingredient in countless dishes.


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The French botanist Tournefort bestowed the Latin name Lycopersicon esculentum upon the tomato, translating to "wolfpeach." This name originated from a misconception, as the botanist mistakenly associated the fruit with the "wolfpeach" mentioned by Galen in his writings from the third century. The term referred to a poisonous fruit used to exterminate wolves. Interestingly, the word "tomato" itself derives from the Spanish word "tomate," which, in turn, traces its roots back to the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs, with the word "tomatl." The tomato's entry into the English language occurred in 1595. Although a member of the deadly nightshade family, it is important to note that while the leaves of the tomato plant are indeed poisonous, the fruit itself is safe for consumption. Native versions of tomatoes were smaller in size, resembling cherry tomatoes, and were likely yellow rather than red.

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