Today the tomato is part of our normal food supply. People consume tomatoes regularly and they are used in sauces, salads and many other different kinds of dishes. But what is consumed without hesitation nowadays was feared for more than 200 years in Europe. People thought the fruit was poisoned and connections were made with the poisoned apple of the Old Testament.
Indeed people did die after consuming the tomato and so the fruit was called “poisoned apple”. But how could this be? The tomato a “poisoned apple”? A fruit that was consumed by Aztecs in Mesoamerica as early as 700 AD without causing any problems but the same fruit led to the death of Europeans after consuming it. It is recorded that Hernan Cortes brought the tomato, which was called “tomatl” by the Aztecs, to South Europe by 1519. The fruit was feared there for its poison and only used for decoration.
But what was the reason for the death of Europeans after consuming the tomato? It was found that mainly wealthy people died from the poison of the tomato. The reason was that tomatoes contain an acid that reacted with the pewter plates used by rich Europeans. Those pewter plates contained a high lead content and this lead migrated to the acid of the tomato and poisoned its consumers.
As Aztecs did not use such exclusive tableware they were never harmed by the fruit. It took until 1880 and the invention of the pizza that the tomato gained popularity in Europe and North America. Later in 1897 Joseph Campbell found that tomato soup could be canned easily. The canned tomato soup became another popular food containing “poisoned apples”. Nowadays migration of cookware and tableware is tested regularly. In many countries migration tests are mandatory.