One of the best smells in the world (according to me) is the smell of freshly picked tomatoes, but not the fruit itself, the stems! When slicing fresh vine tomatoes for a sandwich I will always use the core where it was attached as it has the strongest perfume. But we all know that you can’t eat tomato vines or leaves as they are part of the infamous nightshade family and they are poisonous………………………………. Or are they???????????
For many years I have been trying to capture the pure essence of the stem and use it in something to add a perfume, but to no avail! As soon as the stem comes into contact with heat it changes into a flavour similar to tea complete with the tannin. The closest I have come is through using vacuum boiling and infusing a small amount of water and also through Rotovap distillation, but even at such low temperatures you still loose the volatile molecules which give it that very distinct note. I have also “Dunked” them into bolognaise and tomato sauce when I have removed it from the heat (70 degrees) so it will keep a bit of that fresh vine flavour.
The psychology of food is something which has always fascinated me as it limits us in so many ways. Take for example the old belief that tomato vines and leaves are poisonous and can make you sick. How many of us have tested that theory? I have done many tests in the past and after I have felt sick as I believed I had eaten too much, when in fact it was my head telling me that I should be feeling sick.
There are many foods which can be harmful if eaten in significant quantities, but we still eat them. See the examples below:
- Raw Almonds (contain Cyanide)
- The seeds of Cherries are very harmful if broken
- Castor oil (1 whole seed can kill a person from the Ricin)
- Apple seeds (also contain Cyanide)
There are many things which we have included in our diet which have some kind of a poison, this is the plants defense system to stop animals eating certain parts such as the seeds which will ensure the species survival.
Today I received some of the best vine tomatoes I have seen so far in Spain (Which is normally the biggest thing I am complaining about), So my tests will once again resume in the hope of finding the perfect solution on how to use them. So I hope this little story has begun to convince you that we are wasting this amazing part of the plant, and to seek some solutions in using them, at the very least we should be placing them all around the table when we are eating some fresh tomato salads so you get the perfume. On this topic we have been very slow to start to use it as there have been many examples of animals eating the tomato vines then coming back the next day to eat some more, plus there was a study in Israel where cattle ate only the vines for 42 days and did not get sick.
It has taken us a very long time to dismiss the claim that this part of the plant is poisonous. Imagine that the tomato was brought to Europe from Mexico either by Hernán Cortéz in 1521 or Christopher Columbus in 1493. Before this time they also believed that the tomato itself was poisonous, So I think 500 years is a pretty long stretching “Wives Tale”.
But either way I always find it very ironic that it was the Spanish to bring the tomato to there empire which stretched around the globe throughout Asia, South America and Europe, but I still struggle to get a great tomato here in Spain :-(