Cherry tomatoes 101: Tiny treats pack nutritious punch

Nutrition: Cherry tomatoes pack a lot of nutrients without many calories and no fat. One cup of cherry tomatoes contains about 27 calories. They’re also an excellent source of dietary fiber, vitamins A, C and K, potassium and manganese. In addition, cherry tomatoes are rich in vitamin E (particularly alpha-tocopherol), thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, phosphorus and copper. Their abundant antioxidants contribute more benefits. Lycopene, for example, helps promote prostate health.

Selection: Choose plump tomatoes with smooth skin and no cracks, bruises or blemishes. Avoid fruit that feels mushy or soft.

Storage: Once ripe, cherry tomatoes will keep about a week. Store at room temperature out of direct sunlight. Refrigeration changes tomato taste; only refrigerate if tomatoes are in danger of spoiling before use.

Freeze for later: Cherry tomatoes freeze well for later use (up to one year). No blanching or peeling is necessary. Wash and dry the tomatoes, then place them in a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet in the freezer. Let them freeze solid, then transfer these red and yellow marbles into a zip-sealed plastic bag or other container. Use as needed straight from the freezer. (They defrost quickly.) Although they won’t substitute for fresh tomatoes in a salad, they work well in many cooked dishes, roasted alongside meat or chicken, in soups or stews, blended into sauces or salad dressings or tossed with pasta.

Drying is easy: Cherry tomatoes can be dried into tomato “raisins,” sweet and flavorful. Choose tomatoes that are ripe but still firm. Wash, dry and slice the tomatoes in half. Dip the cut tomatoes into a solution of half vinegar (cider or distilled) and half water. Place cut side up in a dehydrator and follow drying directions.

Or oven-dry them: Place tomatoes cut-side up on a foil-lined cookie sheet; leave a little space between each half for air circulation. Dry on low heat (150 degrees) for 10 hours or overnight (larger cherry tomatoes may take up to 24 hours). While drying, prop the oven door open slightly (the handle of a wooden spoon works well) so moisture can escape.

Dried cherry tomatoes will be pliable but not sticky or stiff (think of them like big red raisins). Store them in the freezer, packed in sealed plastic bags, for up to one year. Rehydrate them by soaking in hot water, wine or broth five to 10 minutes. Or rehydrate them in olive oil for use in salads.

Preparation: Wash and eat; that’s the simplest way to enjoy these flavorful gems. But just about anything you can do with full-size tomatoes, you can do with cherry tomatoes, too. That includes grilling, roasting, baking and use in recipes.

How to peel: With a sharp knife, slash an “X” on the blossom end (opposite the stem) of each tomato. Drop tomatoes into boiling water for 2 minutes or until the skin starts to crack or pull away from the flesh. Remove from boiling water and plunge tomatoes into cold water. The skins will slip right off.

The original healthy snack food: Cherry tomatoes are believed to be a cross between wild currant-like tomatoes and domesticated large tomatoes. They trace back to at least the 15th century; European explorers found them in Aztec Mexico, where full-size tomatoes had been cultivated since 5000 B.C. The cherry tomatoes we know today became popular in the United States as snacking tomatoes in the early 1900s. Their use in recipes was not popularized until the 1960s when they became a favorite addition to salads.

Debbie Arrington

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