Making summer tomatoes last longer

Tomato heaven at a marketplace in Nice

Tomato heaven at a marketplace in Nice

What’s better – fresh versus processed?

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While there is truly nothing better than to pick a warm tomato off the vine, wash it and pop it into your mouth (just ask my little granddaughters as they spied ripe ones in my backyard and then squealed with delight as they picked each one),  nutritionally speaking,  variety does offer advantages.

Not all tomato products are equal in the disease-fighting advantages they provide. For example, cooked or processed tomatoes (such as canned or bottled products) allow for better lycopene absorption than do raw tomatoes.  In addition, adding a little fat, such as an extra virgin olive oil, also boosts lycopene absorption.  Raw tomatoes supply other health perks, especially when you consume the entire tomato- flesh, seeds and peel.

If you buy raw tomatoes and find that their taste or texture simply doesn’t measure up (or you’ve got too many on hand), oven dry or roast, them to intensify their sweetness and boost their lycopene perks.  (This is a neat trick to make winter tomatoes  palatable.)

Plum tomatoes work best but any kind can be prepared in this way: Cut tomatoes into wedges (quarters for small tomatoes and sixths for larger ones and place cut side up on a parchment-lined baking sheet.   Season with a little salt and freshly ground pepper and drizzle a little olive oil over the tomatoes. Then bake in a preheated 325 °F/ 160°C oven  for  1 1/2 hours to 2 hours, or until tomatoes are dried slightly but still soft to touch. Be careful not to over dry them.

Store them in the fridge in a jar or container  or freeze in labelled containers and use them in salads, pasta dishes or in sandwiches.

Tomato sauces and soups and vegetable stews, for the freezer,  are also super options  to enjoy after tomato season is long gone.  Or you can freeze them, washed and cored,  on a baking sheet and then pack them into containers when they’re frozen solid. Then use in assorted cooked dishes instead of canned tomatoes.

If you’re opting for processed tomato products, as they  can vary significantly in their nutritional ratings,  make sure to read labels. Some may have the peel and seeds removed while others are packed with sodium.

The good news here is that there are now much better choices in the marketplace. At one time, a cup of tomato juice supplied an average of about 900 milligrams of sodium, almost two-thirds of the daily recommendation. Nowadays, you can find regular tomato juice containing less than 500 milligrams, and sodium-reduced ones with just 240 milligrams per cup.

But here’s a bit of advice about the tomato juice. If you want the sodium-reduced varieties, you may need to let the company know. Not that long ago, when I couldn’t find the sodium-reduced tomato juice, I finally contacted the consumer hotline. I was told that the company doesn’t make enough to last the year when they process the tomatoes for juice as the consumer demand isn’t there.

Maybe their policy has changed recently, but if you’re a fan, be vocal  or send an email, if you want it to remain on store shelves.

Some canned tomatoes are available in “no added salt” form which allows you to be master of the sodium content. One of my favourite canned diced products (Aurora)  doesn’t even trumpet its sodium content but contains only 10 milligrams per 1/2 cup serving. Another popular brand supplies a whopping 400 milligrams per half cup – 40 times the amount of sodium in the Aurora!

Pasta sauces can also vary significantly in their sodium content and usually don’t contain the valuable seeds and peel. If you do use prepared pasta sauces, check out the nutrition facts on your favourites. But also consider adding some canned diced tomatoes (with low sodium counts) to boost the nutritional rating.

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Categories: Tips and Tricks

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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