Why Are Beef Tomatoes Called Beef Tomatoes? A Simple Guide

Have you ever wondered why some tomatoes are called “beefsteak” or “beef” tomatoes? Is it because they taste like beef? Or because they are often used as a topping for a juicy steak?

In this article, we will explore the origins of the name and uncover the fascinating science behind these meaty and flavorful tomatoes. From their history to their unique genetic makeup, we will delve into the world of beef tomatoes and discover what makes them so special.

So sit back, relax, and get ready to learn all about the delicious and intriguing world of beef tomatoes.

Why Are Beef Tomatoes Called Beef Tomatoes?

The term “beefsteak” first appeared in an 1869 seed catalog, describing slices of a specialty tomato as being “as solid and meaty as a beefsteak.” This name stuck and has been used ever since to describe this particular type of tomato.

But why are they called beef tomatoes? It’s not because they taste like beef, but rather because of their size and texture. Beefsteak tomatoes are one of the largest varieties of cultivated tomatoes, regularly reaching 20 cm (6 in) in diameter with some weighing 450 g (1 lb) or more. They have a firm and meaty texture, making them perfect for slicing and using as a topping on sandwiches or salads.

Interestingly, beefsteak tomatoes are not grown commercially as often as other types of tomatoes because they are not considered as suitable for mechanization as smaller slicing tomatoes. However, they are the most popularly grown tomato in North America among home growers.

The History Of Beef Tomatoes

The history of beefsteak tomatoes can be traced back to the early 16th century when the first tomatoes were brought to Europe from Mexico by conquistador Hernan Cortez. Among these tomatoes were the huge beefsteaks, which were different from the tiny, berry-sized fruits that the tomato plant produced in its original wild form.

It was not until 1869 that the term “beefsteak” was first used to describe a specialty tomato with a solid and meaty texture. This name stuck and has been used ever since to describe this particular type of tomato.

A team of scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has identified a set of genes that control stem cell production in tomatoes, including those responsible for the size of the beefsteak tomato. The size of the beefsteak tomato is linked to the number of stem cells in the plant’s growing tip, called the meristem. Specifically, an abnormal proliferation of stem cells can be traced back to a naturally occurring mutation that arose hundreds of years ago in a gene called CLAVATA3. Selection for this rare mutant by plant cultivators is the reason we have beefsteak tomatoes today.

In Italy, a variety of beefsteak tomato is produced which looks like a beef heart in shape, as it is pointing down. This variety is known as cuore di bue and has been registered in Italy but not in France, where some companies continue naming tomatoes with different qualities cœur de bœuf.

Despite being grown and used by pockets of colonial Americans, tomatoes were not widely embraced until the early 1800s in North America. They were thought to be toxic as they are in the Solanaceae family, which includes deadly nightshades and other poisonous plants. This was disproved publicly in 1820 when Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson ate a tomato on the courthouse steps of Salem, New Jersey.

What Makes Beef Tomatoes Different From Other Varieties?

Beefsteak tomatoes are notable for their size and texture. They have smaller seed cavities than other types of tomatoes, giving them a greater ratio of flesh to juice and seeds. This makes them perfect for sandwiches and burgers because they are juicy, meaty, and flavorful.

In comparison to plum tomatoes, which are oval-shaped and smaller than beefsteaks, beefsteaks have a much larger size, with a diameter of six or more inches and can weigh over a pound each. Plum tomatoes also have a lower water content compared to other types of tomatoes, with an almost chewy flesh, which makes them particularly suited to sauces.

Beefsteak tomatoes can come in all colors, including pink, yellow, green, white, and technicolor. There are around 350 types of beefsteaks out there and although you’ll mainly see the red ones labeled as “beefsteaks,” the Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, and Black Krim heirlooms are all beefsteak tomatoes too.

The Science Behind The Meaty Flavor Of Beef Tomatoes

The meaty texture of beefsteak tomatoes is due to the high concentration of flesh in each fruit. This is because these tomatoes have a large number of cells that produce the fruit’s flesh. The size and shape of the tomato are controlled by a set of genes that control stem cell production in the plant’s growing tip, called the meristem.

Scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory have identified a set of genes that control stem cell production in tomatoes, including the CLAVATA3 gene. Mutations in these genes can lead to abnormal proliferation of stem cells, which can result in larger fruit sizes. This explains the origin of giant beefsteak tomatoes and suggests how breeders can fine-tune fruit size in other fruit-bearing crops.

Beefsteak tomatoes also have a classic tomato flavor, which is due to their high sugar and acid content. The sugar content gives them their sweetness, while the acid content provides a tangy flavor. The flavor and texture of beefsteak tomatoes make them perfect for use in salads, sandwiches, or as toppings for pizzas.

How To Use Beef Tomatoes In Your Cooking

Beefsteak tomatoes are versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes. Here are some ways to incorporate them into your cooking:

1. Sandwiches: Because of their size and compact build, beefsteak tomatoes are perfect for cutting sizeable slices to go on sandwiches, hamburgers, and veggie burgers.

2. Grilling/Frying: Thicker slices of beefsteak tomato can be fried or grilled for a short time on high heat to get a seared surface with great flavors. Half a beef tomato – to go with any food – can be fried in a pan with the cut surface facing downwards.

3. Stews: Beefsteak tomatoes are a great addition to stews, such as the classic hearty beef and tomato stew. The tomato-based flavor complements the tender beef and melt-in-your-mouth potatoes.

4. Fillings: Cut a beefsteak tomato in half and fill it with spices, meat, fish, vegetables, melted cheese, or any other filling you desire.

When selecting beefsteak tomatoes, look for ones that are firm but give to gentle pressure and have smooth skin. Avoid any tomato that is too soft, wrinkled, has broken skin or is blotchy colored. Size is not the end-all with beefsteaks; a flavorful beefsteak can weigh 8 to 12 ounces.

The Health Benefits Of Beef Tomatoes

Beefsteak tomatoes are not only delicious but also packed with numerous health benefits. These tomatoes contain high levels of antioxidants and vitamins, including lycopene, potassium, and vitamins C, A, and E. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that not only fights osteoporosis but also helps to reduce low-density cholesterol (LDL) in your arteries, which is the bad cholesterol that can cause heart attacks or blood clots.

The potassium content in beefsteak tomatoes helps to lower blood pressure by absorbing sodium and relaxing blood vessel walls, reducing the risk of blood clots. This combination of nutrients makes beefsteak tomatoes great at fighting cardiovascular disease and hypertension.

Moreover, beefsteak tomatoes contain cancer-preventive properties due to the presence of lycopene. Lycopene has been shown to help prevent bone loss and may aid in preventing certain types of cancer.

Beefsteak tomatoes are also low in calories, high in fiber, and a good source of vitamin C and potassium. They have a mild taste and juicy texture, making them perfect for slicing up for sandwiches or hamburgers. Additionally, they are ideal for canning or sauce-making.

Tips For Growing Your Own Beef Tomatoes At Home

Growing your own beefsteak tomatoes at home can be a rewarding experience, but it requires some careful planning and attention to detail. Here are some tips to help you get started:

1. Space them out: Beefsteak tomato plants require a lot of space to grow properly. Make sure to space them at least 18 to 36 inches apart, with 5 feet or more between rows for optimal growth and air circulation.

2. Provide support: Beefsteak tomato plants can grow quite tall and heavy, so they need extra support to prevent them from falling over. Tie them to a trellis, stake, or cage, and consider using a wire system for added stability.

3. Plant deep: When planting your seedlings, make sure to plant them deeper than they were growing in their starter pot. This will encourage healthy rooting and help anchor the plant later on.

4. Prune regularly: To ensure that your plant develops no more than one or two main stems, prune it regularly throughout the growing season. Pinch out “suckers” or new growth when they are young and only 1/2 inch long that form in the crotch of the stronger branches.

5. Water deeply: Beefsteak tomato plants need regular watering, about one to two inches per week split between two waterings. Water deep, and don’t let the plant wilt.

6. Fertilize every three to four weeks: Once fruit has set, fertilize your plants every three to four weeks with a fertilizer like Jobe’s Vegetable and Tomato 2-5-3 (NPK), available at Home Depot, or something similar. Providing too much nitrogen before fruit set means the plant will grow very large but won’t produce much fruit.

By following these tips, you can successfully grow your own delicious beefsteak tomatoes at home. Remember to give them plenty of warmth, direct sun, and water, and be patient – it can take up to 85 days for these big boys to reach maturity!