Vegetable or fruit? That is the question.
Despite its seemingly dual personality, the tomato is a fruit and even a berry. Botanically speaking, that is, as it's the ovary of a flowering plant. For culinary purposes, however, it is considered a vegetable.
Regulars at the Agoura Hills Farmers Market on Sunday were there not to debate, but to admire and acquire tomato varieties.
"As of now, I think we carry at least 14 varieties," said Keang Yang, owner of Yang's Best Produce of Fresno, arguably the produce stand that carries the highest number of tomato varieties at the market. This family-owned farm has been growing pesticide-free vegetables since the early 1990s.
One of the most common garden plants now in the United States, tomatoes are considered low maintenance and do not require a lot of space to grow.
For consumers, the tomato provides an excellent source of vitamins A and C and the antioxidant lycopene.
At Yang's stand alone, there were six kinds of heirloom tomatoes: red, purple Cherokee, red zebra, black zebra, pineapple and hollow red.
"These are quite popular too, especially for sandwiches," said Yang, pointing to the beefsteak tomatoes.
Due to its thinner skin, the kidney bean-shaped tomato variety is also good for cooking, but it has a shorter shelf life than most, Yang said. For making tomato sauce and tomato paste, the elongated plum tomatoes are preferred due to their higher solid content.
Typically part of the spring to summer harvest, it is not unusual to find tomatoes in the produce section even in the middle of winter. But Yang issues some words of caution.
"The tomato season in California is typically from June to November, with the peak harvest from July to September," said Yang, "so if you find tomatoes outside those months, you may be in for disappointment taste-wise."