It’s hard to imagine that tomatoes did not come from this continent. Can you picture a life without kachumbari? In a similar way, it’s hard to imagine Italian cuisine without lashings of tomato sauce to add onto their pasta and pizza. Yet for them too, this ingredient was only introduced to their cuisine five hundred years ago after the conquest of the Americas.
First things first, are a tomatoes fruits or vegetables? Hold tight, because contrary to what you may believe, tomatoes are the fruit of the tomato plant (because it develops from the ovary in the base of the plant) and as such should be considered a fruit. That said, they are used as vegetables in cooking adding intensely succulent flavours and colour to sauces, stews, salads and much in between.
Tomatoes, depending on variety, mature after about 70 days and flourish in warm climatic conditions. In an area with high humidity and temperature fruit sizes are often reduced, while in hot areas yields are usually greater. Tomatoes that grow in areas with low temperature are often recognisable by the lack of saturation in their redness. Wet conditions (like with many crops) increases the disease attack and fruit may fail to ripen properly.
In Kenya, they are mainly grown in areas like Kajiado, Laikipia, Makindu, Central Province, Narok, Pokot and Western province. We have many varieties but it’s just four main ones that are predominantly sold in the markets and grocery shops. These are: Money Makers, Mavuno F1, Marglobe and Faulu.
This particular harvest yields fruits that are deep red. The flavours are semi sweet and lack the deep tomato flavour of other varieties. The skins are neither thin nor thick. They are perfect for making salads and are just as delicious when eaten on their own.
Mavuno F1 when planted has the longest life span of up to a year. Its fruits stay fresh for 3 weeks at room temperature which is why it is the most preferred variety when it comes to domestic use. It is rich in taste and has a meaty texture with little to no seeds. They are said to develop the best flavour and when cooked down into a sauce, it’s very delicious.
Marglobe variety is easy to grow but it is not as popular as the money maker tomato. Unfortunately they are not fleshy and are therefore not a popular choice when it comes to domestic use even though their flavours are very intense. This variety is the preferred main ingredient when making tomato sauce and paste.
It is one of the fastest growing tomato varieties in Kenya, reaching maturity 60 days after transplanting. Faulu variety gives tomato fruits that are oval shaped, firm and weigh between 85 and 95 grams. It has a mild flavour making it an all rounder in the kitchen.