From its origins in central and southern America, the humble tomato has become the most popular vegetable in the world. With over 60 million tons produced a year to satisfy demand, can we really be sure that the tomatoes we buy in the supermarket, grown on a huge commercial scale, are as good for us as we think?
With growing interest in healthy eating, a number of plant breeders are trying to identify tomato varieties with naturally higher levels of lycopene. Suttons, and the University of Exeter set out to discover which of these new and traditional varieties contain the very highest levels.
We grew over 80 varieties then whittled them down to the 24 which grew well, cropped heavily and tasted great. After all, this is not a purely academic exercise, we are trying to find the best varieties for gardeners to enjoy growing and eating at home!
Our trials showed that all tomatoes are not born equal with the best varieties containing a whopping 8 times more lycopene than the lowest. Just out of interest, we tested some standard supermarket tomatoes and guess what? they came a miserly 23rd out of 24!
What is Lycopene?
Lycopene is a bright red compound found naturally in many fruits and vegetables but especially tomatoes. It is thought to be one of the key factors providing the perceived health benefits of a Mediterranean diet and some epidemiological studies suggest an association with reduced cardiovascular disease. It is an antioxidant with the ability to ‘mop up’ damaging free radicals in the body.
So in this instance, growing your own really could be better for you. For the very best results you should choose one of our ‘high lycopene’ varieties, not just for the health benefits, but because we’ve also made sure that they crop well and taste great too.
Why are tomatoes more nutritious if you add avocados or olive oil?
Lycopene is released during cooking and dissolves in fat which makes it easier for your body to absorb. To maximise the benefit, cook your tomatoes and eat them with some monounsaturated fat such as olive oil or avocado.
Traditional tomato sauces, or oven roasted tomatoes with a drizzle of olive oil can more than double your intake of lycopene. For other useful snippets about storing tomatoes plus exciting new tomato recipes buy James Wong’s new book ‘How to Eat Better’
And the winners are….
In our trials these are the varieties that came out on top for lycopene.
Best “Standard Type” in Suttons Lycopene Trials
Lycostandard 3221– Maybe the most versatile group: you can slice them for sandwiches, but you can also fry them and cook them as you like. The taste is more acidic than that of the cherry ones.
Best “Cherry Type” in Suttons Lycopene Trials
Lycocherry 1247 – This is the most ancient group of all tomatoes, grown by the Aztecs since the 15th century. It was the first tomato to be domesticated. They are the sweetest, most lycopene-concentrated tomatoes, with the most intensive flavour. Their flavour is enhanced by their natural sweetness during cooking. They are very versatile: ideal for lunch boxes or salads.
Best “Plum Type” in Suttons Lycopene Trials
Lycoplum 2194 – Fruits have an oblong shape and very few seed pockets, in comparison to other types. They have been specifically bred for cooking. Their good structure, higher dry matter content and more concentrated flavour makes them ideal for sauces and soups. These are also the best tomatoes for drying. You can easily remove the skin with blanching: drain and cool before peeling – they can also be frozen in this state.
Best “Beefsteak Type” in Suttons Lycopene Trials
Lycobeefsteak 0191 – Ideal for sandwiches, being very sliceable. Best group for grilling. Very useful for cooking, by which you can bring out their flavour. Ideal for juices and smoothies as well, having very high water content. If you have a good yield, you can always save your surplus by using them in your juices.