Canarian Tomatoes

For 300 years the islanders struggled to grow things to export – it was the humble tomato that changed everything. 

An Article by Bernie Power with The Voice Fuerteventura

Bernie Power

Hard Times

The locals needed to find something to export and tried almost everything, including burning local limestone in the big ovens that you can still see all over the island. This was then used to make calcium carbonate for mortar and paints.  They also burned certain sodium rich plants to make sodium carbonate, which was used to make antiseptic soap. But, these trades all came to a stop once a cheaper source was found. 

Canary Tomato

But there was one product that would go on to make the Canary Islands famous all over the world and that was the humble tomato. The first tomato to arrive here, was just one of the many discoveries bought back from the New world, and this one was brought back by Cortez in 1519. The word tomato actually means “plump fruit” in the Aztec language and was so given as the tomato is indeed a fruit as it belong to the same of solanoceae family as do potatoes, eggplants,  tobacco and chillis. All of which originally come from the New World or South America.  

Full of Goodness 

Diabetics have to watch their consumption of tomatoes because of the amount of natural sugar they contain but for the non-diabetic it’s a one-stop health shop.  When the fruit is ripe, it is a valuable source of vitamins A, B, C, E and K aswell as being stuffed full of iron and natural sugars. But when it is green, it contains a toxin called Tomatine. A substance which prevents early digestion by animals. This defence system is in-built, so when the fruit is attacked by pests, it produces a hormone called systemin that stunts the insect’s growth and prevents it from doing too much damage. 

The tomato also contains a very important anti-cancer component called Lypocene which is currently being tested for its effect on prostate and breast cancers. 

The First Seed

In 1885, an English agriculturalist called M.Blisse arrived in Gran Canaria and planted the first seeds. This started the development of the Canarian tomato industry that still trives today. the success of the Canarian variety is down to the unique flavour it gets from the volcanic soil in which it is grown, coupled with being exposed to at least seven hours of sunshine every day. Here in Fuerteventura we have our own particular type of canary tomato, which is grown in Tiscamanita. This variety has joined the list of 7,500 different types which are now grown worldwide. All this, from a small, originally yellow fruit, brought back as a novelty by the conquistadors! 

Little Tomatoes 

Cherry tomatoes are still very popular and were always a favourite, as they grew happily in the northern winter and the businesses thrived. Unfortunately, they also needed lots of water and as fresh is best, many producers went to Morroco mainly because of its abundance of water and close proximity to Fuerteventura and secondly because wages that they needed to pay the workers were a seventh of what the canarian workers expected at the time. The turnover at the end of the 20th century was 360.000 tons, but recently this figure has fallen to less than 200.000 tons. This represents one third of the islands agricultural output, of which 80% is exported. 

Miracle Fruit

So the next time you push a slice of tomato around your plate or throw it out of a kebab, remember, it has been here a long time and supported the local people for centuries. And although we may take it for granted now, it really is a miracle fruit and can only do you good.