What is the Italian word for tomato?

And the answer: pomodoro.    
Photo credit: Karl Thomas Moore

Pomodoro literally translates to “apple of gold” (pomo d’oro) which references the tomato’s color before it is fully ripe. Pomodoro is also the name of a popular productivity technique that uses a kitchen timer and planned breaks.

Although you might want to thank Italy each time you bite into an especially delicious caprese sandwich or spaghetti with red sauce, you may be surprised to learn that the tomato is not actually native to Italia, nor Europe at all for that matter. Tomatoes were first discovered as a wild plant in South American regions such as Ecuador and Peru, before migrating north to the Mayan and Aztec empires. There, the plant was modified for taste and size, and eventually gained its name from the Aztec word "tomatl." Spanish conquests of Central America introduced the tomato to a European consciousness, and by 1548 the tomato had finally reached Italy.

Interestingly, though, the tomato did not receive a warm welcome. Nicknamed the "devil's fruit" due to their red appearance, Italians initially distrusted the tomato and believed it to cause health problems and food poisoning. Transplanted from its original environment, Europeans lacked understanding of the traditional uses and preparation of the tomato, which certainly didn't help the trepidation they faced in consuming it.

All in all, it wasn't until the early 18th century that the tomato began to be incorporated into Italian cuisine. By the 19th century, many of the traditional Italian dishes involving tomato began to gain popularity and recognition, as better means of preparation revealed the health and taste benefits of tomatoes. As nationalism spiked in Italy, so too did the dependence on the tomato, as it was often used to depict the red in the Italian red, green and white tricolor flag. Traditional dishes such as spaghetti al pomodoro, pizza margherita, and insalata caprese each rely on tomatoes to provide the red in the red-white-green trio.

Learn more about the history and significance of the tomato in Italian cuisine here.


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