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Ten Tomatoes That Changed the World

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Kirkus Reviews

Eccentric, informative, and thoroughly enjoyable

In this rollicking account, Alexander investigates how the tomato moved from being ignored and disdained to being popular all over the world. The Spanish conquistadors encountered it when they were demolishing the Aztec civilization, and they took it to Europe, where the first samples ended up in Italy. Then, notes the author, it was ignored for centuries, in part because it was related to poisonous nightshade. However, since it was grown as a decorative plant, when people began to try it as food, there were plenty of tomatoes to be had. Italy, especially Naples, looms large in the tomato story, and Alexander spends time in the region tracing the historical connections. "In Italy, when tomatoes were first consumed," writes the author, "it was by the wealthy, and as an exotic curiosity, much like adventurous eaters today might try fugu, the potentially deadly puffer fish, while visiting Japan." One of the tomato's primary uses, ketchup, was a classic American invention, although it began as a way to use the scraps left after canning. Alexander cheerily recounts numerous tales of the tomato's development, which includes a cast of colorful inventors, marketers, and a few fraudsters.