The tomato has its origin in South America. It was domesticated in Mexico and its name is derived from the Aztec "tomatl". Spanish explorers introduced the tomato to Europe in the 1600's where it was embraced by Spaniards and Italians. Northern Europeans suspected the "wolf peach" was poisonous and only grew it for decoration, though some felt it was an aphrodisiac and began calling it "love apple". The tomato arrived in America in the late 1700's along with all of the myths surrounding it. Adventuresome gardeners, like Thomas Jefferson, helped it gain in popularity. By 1835, tomatoes were widely eaten. Though botanically a fruit, in 1893 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the tomato was a vegetable (NIX v. HEDDEN, 149 U.S. 304). The import tax placed on vegetables (but not fruits) protected U.S. tomato growers from foreign markets. Today approximately 88 lbs. of tomatoes are consumed per person each year in the U.S.
Plant breeders have improved the wild tomato. Thousands of varieties have been developed with improved quality and disease resistance. One of the improved types of tomato is called Roma. The Roma tomato is now a generic name for a pear-shaped tomato with thick walls that is used for canning and producing tomato paste. The name Roma suggests an Italian origin; however, the first Roma tomato was developed by the USDA in 1955. There are now other Roma tomatoes, but the original USDA cultivar, ‘Roma VF’, is still commonly sold and grown.