Why do tomatoes taste salty? Do they contain sodium?


Taste is a subjective thing, of course, but I have always felt that tomatoes had a slight hint of saltiness to them. Do they actually have more sodium than other vegetables?

The history of tomatoes

Tomatoes became domesticated in Mesoamerica by 500 B.C.E. Tiny wild tomatoes were native to that area, but the Aztecs cultivated them into larger berries. The Spanish brought the plant back to Europe in the 16th century, although initially it was only used for decorative purposes. By the early 17th century, tomatoes were used for cooking in Spain, and the Spanish were largely responsible for distributing the plant throughout much of the world, including parts of Europe and Asia. The Italian cousine, alomost defined today by its use of tomatoes, did not incorporate them as a food by the early 18th century.

Sodium content in tomatoes

Vegetables are among the foods that contain little sodium and tomatoes are no exception to this rule. One large whole tomato contains about 9mg of salt. Yellow tomatoes contain more than twice that amount (23mg per 100g), but they can still be considered low in sodium.

What needs to be considered, however, is that tomatoes are rarely consumed raw. Unfortunately for those who watch their sodium intake, it has been discovered that salt greatly enhances the flavor of tomatoes. Tomato sauce, for instance, can contain as much as 500mg of sodium per one serving. Care to guess what’s considered one serving? 1/2 cup. Is that really enough to cover the spaghetti we pile on our plates? Probably not.

A common ingredient found in many dishes is sun dried tomatoes. Sounds pretty innocent and natural. However, the sodium cost of this tasty addition is 266 mg. The problem is not simply in the fact that dried tomatoes lose a lot of liquid. Salt is actually used in the process of drawing the liquid out of tomatoes.

So, why do tomatoes taste salty?

The taste of tomatoes depends on the concentration of minerals and oils present. For example, tomatoes are a good source of vitamin C which in its raw form tastes sour or tart. This might be part of the reason. However, most likely we are simply used to tasting tomatoes in oversalted foods. The taste of tomatoes became associated with salt. But as long as you eat the fresh, they are great and healthy.